This article appears in the September 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
This past summer, ESPN high school football recruiting guru Tom Lemming pulled up a chair in Pahokee head coach Leroy Foster's cramped office and started asking questions about senior running back Antone Smith.
In a third chair, Smith listened silently. After a couple minutes of Foster heaping praise on him, Smith stood up and said, "Coach, I can't even listen to this. Can I go until it's over?"
Smith, who is rated the nation's No. 5 running back and No. 18 overall recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com, didn't have better things to do. He's simply not a big fan of ceaseless compliments. In fact, ask him how he'd like to be remembered by those who have seen him play in high school and he's equally dismissive.
"It wouldn't matter what they say," says the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Smith, whose first name is pronounced
An-tawn, though he's known as "Twone" to teammates. "People come and go. I don't want people to talk about me. Let them talk about the next person to come along."
Unfortunately for Smith, it might take a while for people to stop talking about him when it's all said and done. The speedy back has rushed for 42 career touchdowns and more than 3,500 yards entering his fourth varsity season — numbers that are even more impressive considering he missed half the team's 14 games last year with a left high-ankle sprain and logged only token minutes as a freshman.
Smith excels because he boasts an extraordinary mix of speed and strength. He runs an inconceivably fast 4.25 in the 40-yard dash, but he's also able to bench press 185 pounds a linebacker-like 29 times and owns a bench press max of 365 pounds.
But best of all, the guy has zero negative attitude.
"He's not a cocky kid," says Foster, who led the Blue Devils to the Class 2B state title last season. "He knows he's one of the best running backs in the nation, but he doesn't walk around like it. A lot of running backs think their crap don't stink, but a lot of those same guys can't hold a candle to Twone. I brag about him more than he does. A lot more."
Fact is, Smith's positive attitude is how he got his job in the first place. When Foster took over coaching duties in the preseason of Smith's sophomore year, there was a back ahead of Smith on the depth chart. A guy with discipline issues. Foster carefully considered his predicament, having never seen Smith play before, then went with his gut.
"I figured if I was going to screw up and start the wrong guy in my first year, at least I was going to do it with a kid who would do what I asked and not give me any lip," recalls Foster, now in his third year as Pahokee's head coach. "Well, Twone took the first ball we handed to him in practice and went 60 yards for a TD. I turned to that other kid and told him he'd better learn to play fullback."
Smith is a uniquely motivated teenager. He is determined to make a better life for his family as the first to attend college. And his goals are rooted in helping his single-parent mom, Clasie, whose name is tattooed on his arm, out of their tiny apartment.
"There's a time and a place for everything in life, and playing in the NFL is a time to make money — that's what it's all about," says Smith, who will turn 19 on Sept. 17.
It's something Smith has wanted since Pahokee Pop Warner. Back when he'd run all over the field with no one to stop him. Back when his youth coaches said he reminded them of former Glades Central and current Jacksonville Jaguars star Fred Taylor, a Pahokee native.
"My attitude is my strength on the field," says Smith, who has written scholarship offers from more than 40 colleges but is still wide open in his recruitment. "I'm not going to stop. Every time I step on the field, it's for keeps. The mind plays a big role in football. A lot of guys think it's all about talent, but it's the mind and the talent. If you've got those, you can do anything.
"I'm just a humble guy," he adds. "I just like to lay back and smile and let everyone else do the talking. I like to do my talking on the field so I'll have no regrets."
That's why Smith disciplines himself to spend his summers running the near-vertical hill near the pier at Pahokee Marina. He runs it again and again. Ignoring the heat. Fighting the pain. Determined to get where he wants to go, but mindful he still has a long way to travel.
"He's very mature because he takes criticism well," says Foster. "He's got a great head on his shoulders in that way. Coaches tell him something and he tries to make a positive out of his mistakes."
These days, Smith is making plenty of positives and very few mistakes on the field. And with his rare combination of speed and strength, don't even try suggesting that he's too small to make an impact at the next level. He's not a change-of-pace back. He can do it all.
"Twone is not afraid to run between the tackles, and he's effective there," says Foster. "And of course, if he gets outside, it's over. All recruiters have to do is see him on film to see the punishment he deals out and they're convinced."
Just don't expect Smith to brag about himself. He'd rather do his talking on the field.