By Dan McWilliams
The fourth annual Smith and Smith Catholic Football Camp at Knoxville Catholic High School on July 12 and 13 gave more than 250 youngsters a chance to learn gridiron skills from NFL players Harrison Smith and Lee Smith and KCHS coaching staffers.
Harrison Smith, a KCHS graduate who went on to the University of Notre Dame and now is a three-time Pro Bowl safety with the Minnesota Vikings, conducts the camp along with Lee Smith, a Powell High grad and current tight end with the Oakland Raiders.
Harrison Smith missed the first day of the camp for kindergartners through eighth-graders but said the event “has gone well.”
“I think everyone’s had fun,” he said. “I had to miss the first day. I was a little under the weather.”
He enjoys putting on the camp with Lee Smith.
“We’ve been working out together, really since we both got to the NFL, maybe a little before,” Harrison Smith said. “We knew each other in high school. Just seeing the success he’s had, coming back here, giving back to the kids, seeing the type of person he’s become, the father he’s become, I’m really just fortunate to have him as a buddy.”
Many of the Smith and Smith campers “don’t know who I am,” Harrison Smith said. “They just know that some people want to play with them. Other kids do know there are NFL players here, and they get excited about it. It’s kind of all over the board, but just the fact that we can get out here and mix it up is great. I also remember being one of these kids, too, going to the camps and being in awe of some of the guys who were there, and just try to give them the same opportunity.”
Mr. Smith said he remembers going to a camp conducted by former NFL quarterback and Webb School of Knoxville graduate Chad Pennington.
“It was over at our rival Webb. I still remember that,” he said. “He was so gracious to everybody, really just a great person and kind of showed what it’s all about. I try to remember that and not get too far away from where you come from.”
On Aug. 7, Harrison Smith received the Chad Pennington Pro Athlete of the Year honor from the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s obviously a great honor,” Mr. Smith said. “For it to be the Chad Pennington Award, and that was a guy I grew up wanting to be like. I know I don’t play quarterback, but I think he embodies everything that’s great about being a competitor and being a great person off the field. He’s that guy, so to be able to accept an award named after him is a great honor.”
The Vikings safety played in his third consecutive Pro Bowl last January.
“That’s not really how I measure success,” he said. “It’s a team game. Still working toward the ultimate team goal. That’s what it’s about for me. I love where I’m at. I love who I play for, my teammates, my coaches, couldn’t be in a better position.”
Mr. Smith said he has goals for the upcoming season, but “I always keep them pretty close to my chest, so I don’t really talk about them,” he said.
The Vikings won the NFC North Division last season and finished one win shy of playing in the Super Bowl on their home field after losing to the eventual champion Eagles in the conference title game.
“You want to set yourself for success in the postseason. Normally it helps to win your division,” Mr. Smith said.
“If you don’t win it all, every season ends the same. We were close and lost—normally it hurts a little worse if you’re that close. If you don’t win it all, that’s how every season ends. We don’t need extra motivation to go out and get what we want. That’s what I’m going to want, and that’s what we’re going to want, no matter what. There’s nothing extra. It’s just, are we going to learn from the past and try to get better each day? That’s how we approach things.”
According to Madden and Pro Football Focus, Harrison Smith is one of the top, if not the top, safeties in the NFL, but he said those accolades don’t affect him much.
“I don’t think about it. I mean, I’ll take it, but that’s not really what I play for,” he said. “I play for—if my coaches tell me I’m doing the right thing, that’s all I care about. The other stuff is cool, though.”
Lee Smith said he enjoys working with Harrison Smith.
“It’s fun. He’s a great man, a great football player,” said the Oakland Raider. “But most importantly he wants to give back to the community just like I do and give these kids something to remember. He’s a top-notch individual, regardless of the football field. This football deal that we get to go through doesn’t last very long. He’s a good man and a good person, and he’ll be great in the Knoxville area for a long time.”
The Raiders have a new head coach who’s not so new in one respect: former Oakland top man and longtime football color commentator Jon Gruden is back at the helm.
“It’s awesome. It’s great,” Lee
Smith said. “Coach Gruden obviously has the reputation and the respect around the football world for a reason. As players and as an organization, I think I can speak for everyone that we’re extremely thrilled that he’s back in the building and ready for the season to get cranking.”
Lee Smith re-signed with the Raiders this spring.
“Free agency’s always fun,” he said. “You get to kind of see what you’re worth and see if everyone else thinks you’re as good as you think you are. It can be humble pie, or it can be something that’s great and very memorable.
“Either way, with Coach Gruden coming in, you know the Rodney Hudsons of the world, who are like brothers to me, Derek Carr— there’s just a lot going on out in Oakland that excited me. It’s a fun place to be. I’m not going to play 10 more years by any means. My family loves it there, so it all kind of worked out. The puzzle came together perfectly, so I’m excited about getting going.”
Mr. Smith played in all 16 games for the Raiders last season, although he said it is a “hard question” as to how the team uses him.
“I’m a tight end, but my role is a little more in the run game, a little more pass protection. My job is to tussle with the big guys a little more than it is to catch passes. That’s what Jared Cook makes the big bucks for. He’s the elite athlete and I’m just the big ugly guy.”
Lee Smith’s goals for the season are the “same goals as every season: play the best football I can play and be the best teammate I can be. Hopefully, if I just do my job, then I won’t get in the way of all these other guys who are a lot better football players than I am, helping us win a lot of games,” he said.
KCHS head coach Steve Matthews said he was pleased with the number of kids who signed up for the two-day Smtih and Smith camp.
“It’s good for the young men, good for the kids,” he said. “Obviously it’s great for everyone involved. It’s great for Catholic and our coaches, working together, and getting to work with some of these young kids is really a good time.”
The campers learned a variety of skills.
“We try to break it up,” Mr. Matthews said. “We try to give everybody a chance to do everything. Really, every camper gets a chance to play quarterback, receiver, running back, so we just try to teach all of the skills to break them up, and then we go to the defense. We try to give everybody a chance to learn all the different skills.”
The campers underwent footwork drills and “basically just anything football-related” to get them to run around and keep moving, Mr. Matthews said. “Hopefully, they’re having fun as well,” he added.
The Smith and Smith event has “been a great camp,” Mr. Matthews said. “They’ve worked hard.”
At the end of the second day of the camp, the two Smiths and former Raiders offensive lineman Khalif Barnes signed innumerable autographs on T-shirts, sports cards, and other items for more than an hour in the hot sun.