SALT LAKE CITY — Quinton Ganther still remembers when Kevin Smith Jr. called him up to tell him he was going to Sacramento State.
“I pretty much told him, you aren’t going to Sac State,” the Weber State running backs coach said, smiling. “I’m not letting you go to Sac State, that’s out of the question.”
Ganther quickly made a few calls to the neighborhood in Fairfield, California, where both he and Smith grew up to see what it would take to get Smith to Utah. Ganther grew up with Smith's older siblings and watched him grow up; he couldn’t let the opportunity to be his coach slip through his hands.
“Kevin is a great kid,” Ganther said. “Kevin is really mature beyond his years, he’s the type of kid you root for. He’s the type of kid who won’t ever complain. You know, he’s been through a lot and he won’t ever tell you.”
Smith, now a running back at Weber State, is described as joyful, a counselor, someone who can make anyone smile, and a family man. His family grew up struggling to make ends meet — there was a lot of poverty in the area, and it wasn’t the best environment for a young man to grow up in.
Donna Rucker, Smith's mom, remembers losing her oldest son to gun violence when Smith was just a young boy. She remembers him spoiling Smith with the newest Jordan sneakers when they would drop or always wanting to buy him new clothes.
From a young age, Smith knew that some of the choices his own family members were making were wrong, so he paved his own way. He’s leading his family in a positive direction and hopes to create a new way for generations to follow. Those experiences have helped shape him into the person he is today.
In the spring of 2018, Smith injured his knee and was forced to miss the entire season. That taught him more valuable lessons as he waited patiently on the sidelines.
“I always gave it my all,” Smith said. “But I feel like it helped me to want to motivate others, because I felt like I was being kind of selfish before I got hurt. Now I see the bigger picture and I want everybody to do great and be great.”
When he’s not on the football field he’s also helping within the Ogden community.
“Just yesterday, I was at the Youth Impact Center getting the kids tickets,” Smith said. “I love seeing the kids, motivating them and giving them the opportunity. That’s what motivates me.”
As for his coach, watching Smith become the man that he is is what makes his job rewarding.
“That young man, he is beyond his years; he is special, and I’m not talking about just football,” Ganther said. “He’s the kid that no matter what you say, you will not peer pressure him. He will not fall to peer pressure. He’s going to be him and do what he wants to do, and he wants to do things right. There is nothing you can say or do to get him off his goal.”
Carra McManamon is a native of Washington State and is attending the University of Utah. Contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @curramac22