Senior Hoping To End AU Career as NCAA Champion

<b>Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a summer series of feature articles on current or former Auburn athletes.</b>

Auburn, Ala.--The end of Maurice Smith's collegiate track and field career may just be the beginning of his most successful years as an athlete. "He's been very important to our team," says Auburn head track and field coach Ralph Spry. "He has been a very positive motivator. He is somebody we are counting on to do well and help us get the ball rolling.

Maurice Smith

"People will look up at that and feed off that energy," says Spry, whose Auburn men's team is expected to be one of the top finishers at the NCAA meet. "We are really excited about that and what he is capable of doing this weekend."

The always intense NCAA meet is the first of two major competitions for Smith this year, who has already qualified to represent Jamaica in the 2004 Summer Olympics. "Over the past four years, I have really been preparing myself for this," Smith says. "Making the ‘A' (Olympics) standard has been really good for me. Now that I have made the standard, I am really just concentrating on making my scores better."

Though the decathlon is a grueling and physically demanding task comprised of 10 events, Smith has not yet hit his prime years, which are the late 20s and early 30s for most decathletes.

"Maurice is so young," Spry says. "This will be a good Olympics for him, but (by) the next one he will be even more mature and he will be ready to roll."

Maurice Smith prepares to toss the shot put.

Even while his best years as a decathlete are ahead him, Smith has already accomplished much during his two-year tenure at Auburn. The 2003 outdoor season was his first to compete in the decathlon for the Tigers after transferring from Central Arizona Community College where he was the top decathlon performer in National Junior College Athletic Association history.

Smith picked up right where he left off at Central Arizona by finishing third for the Tigers in the decathlon at the 2003 NCAA Championship, scoring 7,854 points. The winner last year was Stephen Harris of Tennessee, a 2003 senior who scored 8,061 points.

This year, in his first competition at the Texas Relays, he scored 8,024 points to break the Auburn school record of 7,925 points he set as a junior. Smith also posted Auburn's second-highest-score in school history in the pentathlon (five indoor events) with a 4,078 total during 2003 season, earning him All-American and All-SEC honors.

In 2004, Smith has won the SEC hepthalon (seven indoor events), was runner-up in the hepthalon at the NCAA Indoor Championships and was recently named the Mondo South District Athlete of the Year for track and field.

"I think that I have a talent in more than one (event) so the decathlon really helps me to display my talents in different areas," Smith says. "It takes a lot of discipline though because it is not an easy event to train for. I just have that love for decathlon so I really train for it hard.

"The discus is really my favorite event," Smith says. "I was a thrower before I was a decathlete so that is really my strong event. I like the throwing events--discus, shot put and javelin."

Growing up in Jamaica, Smith has been around track and field all of his life and his involvement in the sport has in actuality been quite a family affair. "My brothers all ran track when they were younger and my mom ran track, too," Smith notes. "It was basically my whole background--friends and family, they all ran track. So I just watched everybody and basically picked up on it."

Smith says he didn't take the competition very seriously when he was young. "I was just casual about it until high school. (Then) I realized that I could do something big with track and field because I was better than the guys my age."

By the time Smith finished his athletic career at Calabar High School, he held Jamaica's high school records in the discus and hepthalon events and won the Most Outstanding Athlete at the Boys Championships twice.

It was during Smith's years at Calabar that a recruiting visit from Auburn assistant coach Henry Rolle convinced him that he wanted to come to Auburn. "He was basically the first to talk to me about college," Smith remembers. "Right there and then I decided I wanted to go to Auburn because I was impressed with what he was telling us. I know a lot of the past Jamaican athletes came here and they did really well."

However, Smith had to make a detour to a junior college program to qualify academically before he could enroll at Auburn. "He had good marks coming out of high school, but he wouldn't have qualified coming out for Division I," Spry says. "Everybody knew the level he was capable of doing. We just stayed in contact with him, he worked hard and Auburn was the place he wanted to be."

Jerry Clayton, who is Smith's personal coach at Auburn, first saw him in high school and then followed his progress in junior college at Central Arizona. "When he got to Central Arizona, Coach Rolle made me aware of him so I watched his marks and he did really well, especially in his second year," Clayton says. "That is what got our attention on how well rounded an athlete he was."

Under Clayton's guidance, Smith has continued to develop. "Since I have been at Auburn, I have improved in the pole vault and the hurdles," Smith says. "Coach Clayton really took me to that level."

Ralph Spry

Spry says he has been pleased with how Smith has progressed at AU. "Jerry has a good program for decathlon and multi-events and Maurice just adapted to it very well," Spry notes. "I can't say enough about how well Coach Clayton has prepared him because 10 events is a tough thing to do. You have got a lot of stress on you in terms of competing, injuries and those type of things, but (Clayton) has done a good job of keeping Maurice glued and overcoming those obstacles he had to overcome to be in the position he is in right now."

Clayton, who has had excellent success coaching a variety of athletes at Auburn, realizes he has a good one to work with in Smith. "Maurice has a real good temperament for a decathlete," Clayton says. "The thing about the decathlon is you have to think about it as one event and not 10. Sometimes athletes doing the decathlon will get into one event that is not going well, they get upset and that affects them.

"He has one event, if he does well that's good, if he doesn't he sets that aside and moves on to the next event," Clayton adds. "He has a good first day, but the thing that makes him outstanding is that his second day is very good where a lot of decathletes' second day isn't that strong. He picks up ground on his second day."

Smith is scheduled to throw the shot on Friday.

On the first day of the decathlon, the athletes compete in the 100 meters, long jump, shot put and high jump before ending with the 400 meters. Day two starts with the 110 hurdles and is followed by the discus, pole vault, javelin and 1500 meters run.

"Maurice has his priorities straight," Spry says. "He is a hard worker. He is a team player and that is pretty much what you look for in athletes. He works hard and he doesn't make any excuses. He is kind of a role model and doesn't even realize it. He kind of leads by example."

Clayton says that Smith should continue to improve for many years. "You don't really reach your prime to the years of 28 to 32," he says. "He has a lot of potential. The key is to stay focused, not only through these Games, but the next Olympics (2008) is when he should hit his prime."

After having accomplished so much in two years at Auburn and with the challenges of the NCAA Championship and Olympics looming, Smith says he just hopes to give his best in every competition he runs.

"With this being my last outdoor contest, I am really going there to win," says Smith, who adds. "I am just going to go out there and give it my best shot so I can put my 10 points up on the board. They're expecting me to go out there and win so that is what I am expecting of myself."

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