"I know they were only six hours away by car, or one hour by plane. So they were away from home but at the same time not too far from home. So I thought it would be a good school to go to and I just kept my eye on them."
In due time, the former Sun Devil staff in turn took notice of the Long Beach (Calif.) Poly standout and last spring offered Smith and four of his Jackrabbit teammates scholarships.
"Most of the time you feel that you'll never get the things that you want the most," Smith said. "I had all these offers from other schools like UCLA and Oregon State and ASU hasn't offered yet. So when ASU called with the offer I just couldn't believe it. I was so happy though and I said then ‘I'm a Sun Devil and that is where I'm going.' I was just so full of joy.
"I didn't commit right when I got the offer, but I already knew I was going to go there and just kept it quiet."
A subsequent visit to ASU had shown Smith, and his high school teammates for that matter, a welcoming group of players and coaches. The wide receiver felt that this was a team that wasn't only accepting socially, but also provided an environment where he could mature and grow into a young man.
"When I visited here I knew that this was a place where I would be comfortable for the next four, five years of my life," he said.
April 6th, 2011 is a day that Smith and his teammates who were offered by ASU won't soon forget and was also a day that brought much joy to the Sun Devil nation. Smith along with fellow wide receiver Josiah Blandin, linebacker Salamo Fiso and cornerback Randall Goforth all committed to Arizona State within minutes of each other providing great publicity to the 2012 recruiting class and turning heads all across the conference.
"I don't remember who committed first," Smith said. "But we were all talking about this and said ‘let's all go there together.' We all like it there, we all know it would be a good place for us, so it just happened like that. We always talked about perhaps going to the same school, but then we thought that it wouldn't happen because we all have our own opinion of what is best for each of us.
"But I was happy it happened that way because I knew I was going to a place where I'm already going to know people from my high school. We already knew people there (at ASU) like Rashad (Wadood) and (Alden) Darby, but if felt even better knowing that I'm going to be with guys I knew since the 7th grade.
"I knew having that trust would make a lot of things a whole lot easier. We're so tight, we can't even be mad at each other. We may fight because of a video game and ten minutes later we're all sitting around and laughing about it. That doesn't always happen with your regular teammate. We know that we always love each other and will always have each other's backs."
ASU eventually welcomed four newcomers from Long Beach Poly, but that list doesn't include all the four players who committed on that April day. Randall Goforth decommitted in favor of UCLA, and linebacker Matthew Rowe pledged to the Sun Devils a few months after his teammates did.
"It's a long story why Randall decided to go to UCLA and you would have to hear from Randall himself," Smith said. "We talked a lot about it, but he just felt that UCLA was better for him. It was just something he went through personally.
"I don't know why Matthew waited so long. He was always telling us he wanted to go here so we were telling him ‘so why don't you just commit then?' Maybe he was pausing and waiting to get other scholarship offers. Finally he committed."
With his rock solid conviction, Smith probably didn't need any further validation for his decision to commit to ASU so early. Nonetheless, seeing the maroon and gold start the 2011 season with a 6-2 mark and on the verge of capturing the Pac-12 South crown was obviously not going to plant any seeds of doubt. Yet, seeing the team end the regular season on a four-game slide and undergo a head coaching change could perhaps have started to change his point of view of the team and his commitment to them.
"When I made my decision I talked to my parents and to some family members," Smith commented. "We all saw ASU as a place where I was going to have a good opportunity. When I saw them go 6-2, I thought they were going to the Rose Bowl. But when they started losing, I didn't get discouraged or think I made the wrong choice.
"Every team loses and if ASU was losing that meant that they needed help somewhere and that could make it easier for me to go there and play. So I used that as motivation to push me. You win some, you lose some, and all that matters is how do you bounce back the next year. You need to take all that anger about losing and release it the next year so you can play better and win."
Smith admitted that his other suitors were more than happy to highlight ASU's struggles at the time as they try to convince him to de-commit ("if you heard some of the stuff coaches were telling me…it was crazy"). But as always, he never felt that any of those programs would be a better fit than ASU would.
"I didn't want to go far away or to a cold place like Colorado or Oregon State," Smith explained. "Cal and UCLA were places I thought may be good options but I also came back to ASU knowing that it was the best place for me.
"Now that I'm here I don't regret anything. I'm very pleased I made this decision."
Granted, the new coaching staff had to still plead their case to Smith and all other previous Sun Devil commits for that matter, that their original choice was still the right choice. The Long Beach wide receiver remarked that the coaching assistants he initially met were certainly effective in their efforts.
"I met with Coach Alexander and Coach Norvell and it's like they opened up my eyes again about ASU," Smith stated. "Coach Alexander my position coach came from a team that just went to the Rose Bowl (Wisconsin), so he obviously knows what he's doing. Then I talked to the offensive coordinator (Norvell) thinking that he will change the offense, and he tells me that he's going to throw the ball a lot.
"So I'm hearing all that and I said ‘cool. I think I'm going to stay with them.' Talking to them made it a lot easier. Josiah being a wide receiver liked it too obviously. And Rowe and Salamo loved how the defense runs a 3-4 which gives them as linebackers more opportunity to play."
Smith claimed that the transition to college life on and off the field hasn't been all that rough, but then again there are still some things that are hard to get used to.
"When I wake up I can't go hug my little brother or expect my mom being there waiting with my breakfast," Smith said. "But at the same time I feel that I'm growing. Being away from home, I have learned a lot of things. I'm going grocery shopping for myself, and because I have no car I have to walk everywhere which is worse (laughs). But being away makes you a whole lot more mature.
"I go back home and my mom is noticing things about me that I normally don't do. I clean up all the time, if I want some food I just go into the kitchen and cook it. My mom was getting emotional saying ‘you're not my little son anymore.' It's just a habit being on my own right now, and being my own man. But it makes me miss my family more and I do cherish the moments that I do have with them."
Smith always envisioned the transition to college life being easier with three of his teammates by his side and he confessed that this theory is coming to fruition these days.
"I always think about if I went somewhere else where I don't really know anybody," Smith reflected, "it would be so hard. But here it's like I still have some family that came here with me and that is them three. Those are my brothers."
One aspect of college life that may have been the biggest eye opener for Smith, as well as all other newcomers, has been the grueling strength and conditioning program headed by Coach Shawn Griswold.
"Coach Griz is crazy," Smith quipped. "He's a good man that has a lot of passion for what he does. I thought workouts in high school were hard and comparing those workouts to what I'm doing now is like comparing flag football to college football. I've never hurt so much after conditioning or the weight room.
"I run track so I'm obviously used to conditioning. But the running he has us do is out of this world. I like it a lot because I feel like I'm getting stronger and getting in shape. I feel quicker especially with all the cone drills we do. Coaches really push me in that drill because they know how quick I am. I want to gain about ten pounds but I don't want to be too heavy obviously so I can still be quick."
The 5-9 165-pound Richard Smith posted 41 receptions for 623 yards (15.2 avg.) and eight touchdowns as a senior and helped the Jackrabbits to a 10-2 record on the year. On special teams he averaged 12.3 yards on punt returns and 23.1 yards on kick returns.
"The (ASU) coaches like my speed (Smith runs a 4.4 40) and my quickness," Smith said. "Being a small receiver I can't be slow. I play with a big heart and with a mindset that even if a corner is bigger than me I'm not just going to bow down to them. I feel that I'm just as good or better than any athlete on the field.
"They feel like I'm a good addition to the team."
With ASU's suspect depth at wide receiver, a newcomer such as Smith has an opportunity to make an immediate impact. Smith said that regardless of the level of experience at his position, he would always be eager to play like any true freshman does and put in the necessary amount of work that will adequately prepare him for this opportunity.
"I'm going to go out there and be a team player and have fun," Smith said. "At the same time, do what the coaches ask me to do. If it comes to a point where I'm battling for a position, then it's on. I'm not going in telling players ‘I'm taking your spot.' I don't feel pressure and I respect the players who have been here before me because they have more experience.
"I don't know what college football is all about and I know I need to learn. I haven't played a down of college football. So if I need to redshirt, then I'll do it because it's best for me."
Smith and his Long Beach Poly teammates came to ASU with much fanfare and were always considered as the foundation the team's 2012 class. Therefore, it should come as no surprise if the spotlight will always be shining a little brighter on this quartet compared to most Sun Devil true freshmen. Furthermore, due to the pedigree of the football program they came from, that the expectations placed on them will always be anything but tempered.
"Of course we are going to have a lot of people looking at all four of us because we came from Long Beach Poly which is a well known high school," Smith said. "But at the same time there are other athletes here that also came from good schools. So back at home we'll have a lot of people watching us and really paying attention to what we do, but I don't know if nationally people will follow us like that.
"All of us will try to do well and keep up the tradition."
Long Beach (Calif.) Polytechnic
Date of Birth
Favorite TV Show
"I don't watch much TV."
"All About the Benjamins" and "Money Talks"
"Sprite, but I haven't drank that since I've been home. So right now it's water and Gatorade."
"My top three are Steve Smith, DeSean Jackson and Chad Ochocinco"
Favorite Pro Team
"Denver Broncos and Boston Celtics"
Person you most admire
"My cousin Joey Hughes. He was one of the first in my immediate family that went to college and graduated. He always gives me advice about what to do and not to do. I respect him a lot."
First Football Memory
"I remember being eight or nine, and I was watching a Broncos game with my dad. I watched their wide receiver Ed McCaffrey catch a pass and his whole leg bent back and broke. That spooked me out because it was the nastiest thing I ever saw. So me being young I said ‘I don't want to play wide receiver.' But I obviously I playing wide receiver now."
One Thing most people don't know about me
"Ever since I was young I watched the show ‘MTV Cribs' and I always dream about being successful so I can be on that show one day. Every year that goes by I know I'm getting closer to getting there."
Why did you choose ASU?
"Their style of offense, throwing the ball a lot."
Where do you want to be in ten years?
"Just being successful in life and not have any regrets. If the NFL doesn't work out, just have a good job where I can provide for family."