Fair or not, his Michigan legacy is likely to be remembered most by the hit he received from Jadeveon Clowney in the Capital One Bowl (edit: Outback Bowl). But that doesn’t define Vincent Smith. Nor do the 1,845 total yards or 17 touchdowns he accounted for over the last four years. Nor does the distinction he holds as the only player in modern Michigan history to score a touchdown rushing, receiving, and passing in the same game.
No, Vincent Smith is much more than that. His backstory has been told several times, from his humble beginnings in Pahokee, Fla., to being known as the toughest player on the team despite his diminutive stature, to his relatively recent passion for painting. Yesterday, he appeared in a Sports Illustrated feature along with Clowney about where they each came from and how it all led up to the hit seen ’round the world.
But this isn’t a story about his past. It’s about how that past has shaped the man he is now and what he wants to do to help mold the next generation of Pahokee youth.
“When I was a kid, lawyers and athletes (who came from Pahokee) came back and spoke to us about succeeding, and that made an impact on me,” Smith said. “So I’ve always wanted to be able to give back like that.”
Earlier this month, Smith set the wheels in motion for his first give-back project, C2C – Vincent Smith Teaches Painting. The idea is to share his love for painting with the middle school and elementary kids of Pahokee by dedicating one day in late March or early April as a painting fun day. Smith will provide the painting materials and his time to provide a day of fun for kids from the impoverished town. He’ll teach them the basics of painting, sign autographs, and leave a lasting impression on the next generation of Pahokee youth.
The project, which is being funded through the crowd-sourcing site Kickstarter, ends on March 16 – the same day the the Wolverines begin spring practice without Smith – and is currently about $800 short of its goal. If the project does not meet its goal by March 16, it will go unfulfilled and Vincent won’t get a chance to make a lasting impression on a generation of youth in need of an inspirational and tangible role model.
Time certainly isn’t easy to come by for Smith as he’s busy preparing for April’s NFL Draft. He trains five days a week in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton with fellow Pahokeean and Wolverine Brandin Hawthorne and others such as the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mattheu. He will participate in Michigan’s Pro Day on March 14th – just two days before his campaign expires – where he hopes to make enough of an impression on NFL scouts to warrant a draft pick or at least a free agent deal. And that’s what makes this project so selfless.
Despite being hard at work chasing his dreams, Smith wants to make sure he gives hope to the youth of Pahokee who could be next in the long line of football stars to come from the Muck. But in the same way he discovered art as a student at Michigan, Smith wants to show that success can be found – and safe and constructive fun can be had – in ways other than football.
“I could always run a football camp or something like that, but I want to switch it up,” Smith said. “I like to give back to the community and this is a way to show kids there are outlets other than football.”
Smith will forever be a part of the Michigan football fraternity, and as a part of the 2009 class that featured Taylor Lewan and Denard Robinson, he helped guide the program through some rough times and set the foundation for the future. Now, he’s trying to do the same for the youth of Pahokee.
As a Michigan fan base that has cheered him on the last four years, let’s send him off with a going away present by opening our wallets to help him help others. Whether it’s $1 or $100, please consider becoming a “backer” of this project. There are rewards for you as well, such as H.O.P.E. wristbands, limited edition prints of his paintings, and more based on your level of donation.
If the project reaches its goal, everyone that becomes a backer between now and the end of the campaign will be entered into a random drawing for a $25 gift card to the M Den and a Michigan mini helmet signed by Vincent Smith, courtesy of Maize and Go Blue*.
In a sports culture full of self-absorbed players that take out $300,000 loans for their own birthday party and struggle to cope with fame, wealth, and life after football, Vincent Smith is a breath of fresh air. He’s truly invested in perpetuating the cycle of giving back to the community that gave back to him when he was a kid. It’s a story about hope and future, and there don’t seem to be enough of those these days.
*One winner will be randomly selected after March 16. Campaign must reach its goal. Winner will be contacted via email. Donation amount has no effect on chance of winning. If you have any questions, contact Vincent via the Kickstarter page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.