Monroe senior linebacker Anthony Smith closes in to make a tackle against Fitzgerald in a game earlier this year. Smith, who made 114 tackles last year as a junior, is on pace for another 100-plus tackle season as the leader of Monroe’s defense.
Getting to know Anthony Smith:
Q: What’s your favorite food?
A: “Garlic chicken wings from the Peking House.”
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: “Transformers, 1, 2 and 3, and I hope they make a No. 4.’’
Q: Who is your favorite entertainer (movie star, comedian, singer etc)?
A: (Rapper) “Gucci Mane.”
Q: Who is your favorite NFL player?
A: ”Patrick Willis of the 49ers.’’
Q: If you were stranded on an island, who would you want to be with you?
A: (Singer) “Keri Hilson.”
Q: Who is the person you owe everything to?
A: “My grandmother. She means everything to me.’’
He thinks about them — always.
They tug at his heart.
They push him and prod him harder than he pushes himself, for they are the very reason Anthony Smith goes so hard all the time, non-stop, unrelenting.
They’re the drive behind what he is and what he hopes to be, the fire that burns in him and the light that guides him.
That’s who and what they are — the women in Smith’s life. They define him and redefine him even now.
Smith, a powerful linebacker Monroe, was 9 when his mother died. He had spent the night at a friend’s house and when he came home the next morning there were people everywhere, his house full of people.
“I remember coming home and all these people were there,’’ Smith said. “I remember my grandmother sitting there crying. And then my grandpa came and told me.’’
His mother had been shot and killed by a stray bullet, a wild misfired shot in the middle of a heated argument that found the most innocent of innocent bystanders.
Shock, grief, disbelief ... Even today Smith doesn’t have words for that moment, the one that changed his life.
“He had to overcome a lot,’’ Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. “It says a lot about him to overcome that and to get to where he is today. Having something happen to you like that. ... He could have ended up the other way.
“But he’s a great kid, just a great kid,’’ Truitt said. “You couldn’t ask for a better kid. He’s a ‘yes sir, no sir’ kid, very respectful and a leader on this team that all the kids look up to.’’
Smith is a monster on the field, and he plays with a purpose.
“I think about her, and everything I do I try to make her proud of me,’’ said Smith this week, remembering his mother, Cassandra Smith. “I wish my mother could see me now. I wish she was here today to see how far I’ve come.’’
He didn’t get here alone.
The other woman in his life — the woman he dedicates everything to today — is his grandmother, Lessie Smith, who was sitting there crying that day when Anthony came home to find he had lost his mother. Lessie’s daughter had just died, and she reached out and picked up Anthony and his sisters and brought them from Columbus to Albany, where they found hope and a new beginning.
“I would probably be in a foster home without her,’’ Smith said. “My dad wasn’t too much in my life, and there was no one else to take us. But she got me when I was 9 and brought me and my sisters to Albany. I don’t know where I would be without her. My grandmother means everything, everything to me. I would be nothing without her.’’
Truitt knows Smith’s grandmother well.
“She is a wonderful lady,’’ Truitt said. “It doesn’t matter, good, bad whatever it is she is for him and will do anything for him. If we ever call her, she is right here for him.’’
Smith is now an honor student at Monroe, a leader on and off the field, and a young man on his way to college — and possibly big-time college football. Georgia, Georgia Tech and a long list of schools are interested in Smith, who plays the game with a passion and determination all his own. He runs through blockers and running backs, tackling the world on his own terms — terms he came to grips with on his long road back from oblivion.
After his mother’s death, he didn’t care about anything football and admits he didn’t care much about anything at all.
“Football wasn’t something I was worried about,’’ Smith said. “It wasn’t on my mind. I was a bad kid in middle school, talking in class, being disrespectful, getting suspended. I was that kid.’’
Football became a bit of a sanctuary — one Smith wasn’t even looking for. Bryan Brown opened the door. Brown, who is now the defensive coordinator at Westover, was at Radium Springs Middle School and coaxed Smith unto the football field.
“They asked me to come out for the team when I was in seventh grade,’’ Smith said. “Coach Brown told me I needed to come out to see if I could help the team. I played safety in seventh grade.’’
The next year Smith was moved to linebacker.
“That’s what opened my eyes,’’ Smith said. “I was making plays and started thinking about my future. I was thinking far ahead, first high school and then college, and was thinking, ‘I’ve got a chance at doing some things.’ ”
He hasn’t stopped.
Remarkably, when Smith showed up at Monroe he was able to start as a freshman. It wasn’t luck or a thin depth chart. He simply earned it.
“He showed up to (voluntary workouts) every day that summer before his freshman year,’’ Truitt said. “He just worked so hard. We had kids ahead of him who were going to start ahead of him, but he came in and took ownership of that position.
“Since the first day he showed up at Monroe as a freshman he had that leadership quality — even as a freshman. That’s rare, very rare. You knew you had something special.’’
And Smith just got bigger and better. He’s 6-2, weighs 225 pounds and runs a 4.6 in the 40, and he flies all over the field.
“He goes hard every play, all the time,’’ senior defensive back Jawaski Randle said. “He goes hard and just runs through people, runs right over them. There was a play against Westover last year when he ran over the fullback and ran over the tailback on the same play. He just runs through people.
“He’s been that way for four years,’’ Randle said. “And he’s the leader out there on defense. He calls all the plays on defense, checks off everything and tells us where to be on defense. He’s smart, real smart. He’s an inspirational motivator when he’s talking to us.’’
It didn’t take Smith long to start dominating the game. He still looks back at the game he had against Cairo when he was just a sophomore and made 19 tackles against the state-ranked Syrupmakers.
“He’s the ideal kid to have out there,’’ Truitt said. “He’s a prototypical linebacker with his size and speed, and we can line him up to go between the tackles or on the outside, because he’s fast enough to take the receiver.’’
There’s no doubt in Truitt’s mind that Smith can make it at the next level.
“The sky is the limit for him,’’ Truitt said. “He can play big-time college football.’’
Randle said he knows Smith can make an impact in Division I.
“I think he could play college football right now,’’ Randle said. “He will probably start as a freshman in college, at Georgia or wherever he ends up playing. It’s because of his work ethic. He is motivated and doesn’t stop for anything.’’
That’s been the theme of Smith’s career. He is simply fun to watch, making plays all over the field. He made 114 tackles last year, including 21 for losses while helping Monroe reach the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs, and is on pace to have more than 100 tackles again. He’s averaging 10.1 tackles a game through five games, including six for losses and three sacks. And it seems every play he makes is a big play.
“He hits hard and just runs through people,’’ defensive back Ernest Davis said. “There are no baby-tackles with him. It’s man-tackles.’’
Smith believes in himself and has since that day back in eighth-grade when he decided football was a big part of his life and a bigger part of his future.
“I didn’t know I would start at Monroe as a freshman,’’ he said. “I knew I had to learn the defense, and I knew I would work hard on every play. The coaches told me they don’t discriminate and that whoever does the best job will be the starter. It’s just a matter of getting the job done.
“When I played linebacker in eighth-grade, that opened my eyes to my future,’’ Smith said. “When I became a starter as a freshman, it was life-changing. You are humbled, because most freshmen don’t get to start. From that moment on, I started thinking more about being a leader and started thinking this can really happen. It seems like it’s all coming to be a reality now.’’
He is humble but most of all grateful to a grandmother who embraced him when he needed it most and gave him love, a home and a future — and more.
He speaks softly and proudly of the woman who saved him.
“I want to make it because of my grandmother,’’ he said. “I want to make it and take care of her. She’s everything to me. I want to do it for her.’’