Estimated read time: 14-15 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY— Alex Smith, a 2004 Heisman Trophy finalist who quarterbacked the University of Utah to the best season in school history before becoming the NFL's No. 1 draft pick, has committed $500,000 to his alma mater's athletics department. His donation will serve as the lead gift for the Alex Smith Strength and Conditioning Facility - a $1.5 million expansion of Utah's varsity athletics weight room.
The San Francisco 49er quarterback is in town today to announce his gift and kick-off a campaign to raise the remaining funds for the project. Plans call for the expansion of the Dee Glen Smith Center (which houses the strength and conditioning room, as well as the football coaching offices, meeting, training and equipment rooms) to the east and west. The Alex Smith Strength and Conditioning Facility will cover 11,000 square feet - a 3,500-square foot improvement from its current size - and will feature new lifting stations and cardiovascular conditioning space.
Smith, who played at Utah from 2002-04, said of his gift, "Utah is the only school that gave me a chance out of high school and this is where I developed into what I am today. Even though I was only here for three years, I got my degree and I gained a lot of life experiences as well. I wanted to give back to the school and people who changed my life."
In 2004, Smith became Utah's first Heisman Trophy finalist while leading Utah to a 12-0 record, a No. 4 Associated Press ranking and an historic BCS appearance. The Utes finished their record-setting season with a 35-7 win over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl, with Smith throwing for 328 yards and four touchdowns. Named the 2004 National Player of the Year by both Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News, Smith was a first-team All-American by the Football Writers of America Association (FWAA) and SportsIllustrated.com. He was a finalist for the Davey O'Brien and Walter Camp Player of the Year awards and was selected as the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Smith produced a 21-1 record as a starter after taking over in the third game of his sophomore season in 2003. He won nine Mountain West Conference Player of the Week citations from 2003-04, and led Utah to a pair of conference championships and two bowl victories. As a junior in 2004, he passed for a school-record 32 touchdowns while throwing just four interceptions, and his 176.5 passing efficiency ranked No. 2 in the nation. He led the MWC in passing yards per game (246.0) and total offense (298.6) - ranking fifth in the country in the latter. He rushed for 631 yards - averaging 52.6 yards per game - and 10 touchdowns in 2004.
Also an outstanding student, the La Mesa, Calif., native received his bachelor's degree in economics from Utah in just two years and graduated with a 3.74 GPA. Smith was selected as the 2004 CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year from a field of over 360,000 NCAA student-athletes. He began work on a master's degree in economics during his junior season, before declaring early for the NFL draft and going No. 1 to San Francisco, where he is the starting quarterback.
The weight room expansion marks the first addition to the Dee Glen Smith Athletics Center's original 33,000-square foot imprint, although it has undergone a number of renovations since opening in 1991, including a refurbished player lounge in 2004, and locker and auditorium improvements in 2005.
"This gift illustrates one of Alex's greatest characteristics - that of leadership," said University of Utah President Michael Young. "He clearly demonstrated that leadership at Rice-Eccles Stadium. He continues to demonstrate it at Monster Park. And now he's leading once again as a young alumnus giving back to his alma mater. We are deeply grateful and very proud of Alex."
Said Utah Director of Athletics Dr. Chris Hill, "Alex's generosity and desire to help his college football team continue to be successful epitomizes his career as a student-athlete - second to none. Alex was not only a great football player, he was also an outstanding scholar, teammate and leader. I am thrilled that Alex's experience at Utah was such that he wants to remain a part of our program."
Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham also expressed his gratitude. "On behalf of the University of Utah football program, I would like to thank Alex Smith for his generous donation. Alex's leadership - both on and off the field - helped bring unprecedented success and recognition to the University during his playing days here. I sincerely appreciate Alex's continued commitment to the success of the athletic programs and student-athletes at the University of Utah."
With his donation, Smith becomes the third professional athlete in the past two years to donate money to the University of Utah athletics department. Andre Miller ($500,000) and Andrew Bogut ($125,000) both contributed to the men's basketball program.
Quotes from Alex Smith Press Conference - Feb. 12, 2007
"First off, I'd like to just thank all my family and friends for coming here today and sharing this with me. I'd also like to thank President Young, Dr. Hill and Coach Whittingham for working with me on this. I've kind of been planning this for a while - this donation and this announcement. It was very, very easy for me putting this together and planning this day.
"As we were planning this announcement and this press conference, I kind of had some time to reflect on my time here. I left so fast two years ago. It was such a fast thing that happened. We played in the bowl game and a few days later I was announcing that I was leaving. All of a sudden, I'm training and I'm across the country getting ready for the combine and the draft. It all happened so fast I feel like I never really got to say good-bye to the university and good-bye to Utah and to thank them for everything that happened to me here and all the experiences I had. They truly are life-changing.
"This is my alma mater, something I'll take with me for the rest of my life. It is something that is part of me now. I'm a Ute for life and will always be. I have such great memories here. I feel like this is a great opportunity to take advantage of that now and to tell everyone how much I appreciate them, the university, the support, coaching, my teammates, the fans and everyone that was a part of my life here.
"It's funny. When I came out of high school I wasn't the number-one pick. I was a low recruit. In fact, I had one offer - one scholarship offer -- and it was the University of Utah. They took a chance on me and gave me a scholarship and I took it. It was here, it was the support I received here from everyone that really allowed me to develop, not only athletically and academically, but I think most importantly as a person, really influencing who I am today and who I will become in the future.
"I really feel so much pride for this university. I have so much pride in being a Ute and being a graduate of this university. I really, truly feel that it is not only my responsibility, but my honor to make this donation and to give back to any future athletes that will be coming here.
"I guess no one's really announced how much. I will be donating half a million dollars to the expansion of the weight room here. This is something that is really special to me. I'm really proud of this. I have so much pride for this. When you are in an NFL locker room, everyone's kind of tagged with their alma mater. We all kind of wear that on our back and there are little friendly bets here and there if you play each other. Everyone kind of wears that. I don't think anyone wears it more than me. I can't go one or two conversations without talking about how we would have beat anyone in the nation my last year here, should have been national champions. I have such great pride for this school and the athletics here and the football program in particular, obviously.
"I'm just proud to be part of this and part of this family and make this donation.
"You know, Andrew Bogut made his donation before he got drafted, so I figured I'd have to one-up him. Like I said, everything kind of happened so fast, it was such a whirlwind of getting drafted and trying to play. Obviously I'm trying to be as successful as I can on the field. I knew I always wanted to do this. It is such a special place for me. I knew I always wanted to give back. It was just a matter of what, when and what it was tagged for and what needed to be done here. I guess this thing has been going on for about a year almost, putting it together and what needed to be done. I really wanted to do something major. I really wanted to help this program out. I was given some options, working with Dr. Hill and the university. This one just felt right. I spent a lot of time in the weight room. It might not look like it, but a lot of time in the weight room. It is something I'm very happy to do."
Michael K. Young, University President
"As you might imagine, this is an exciting day in the life of a University and a particularly exciting day in the life of a university president. We have lots of days in the life of a university president and not all of them are exciting - well, they're exciting in different ways. I suppose that's fair to say. But this is a really thrilling one.
"We are just delighted, Alex, on behalf of the University of Utah, to thank you for your generosity. But honestly it is even more than that we're thanking you for. It is unusual when someone of Alex's age does the kind of philanthropic activity that he does. I think we are the very lucky recipient of some part of it. I had the opportunity to be sitting next to his mother today at lunch and Pam told me all about the foundation that Alex has and the work he's doing with foster children. It just is extraordinary.
"It proves to us what we had the privilege of seeing here at the University of Utah - that this is a young man who was an exceptional leader on the football field, but a leader off the field as well. This kind of a gesture demonstrates that leadership, yet again.
"While here at the university, he really put an exclamation point behind the word student in the notion of student-athlete. He was one of our extraordinarily good students, demonstrating that athletics and academics are really consistent with each other and an important part. He played, he studied, he worked and represented us with extraordinary integrity and honor. But always at the heart of it was a certain kind of capacity for leadership in a quiet, very gentle way. But demonstrating on the field, demonstrating off the field the way that people contribute back to the world that they live in. This is just a wonderful example of it and we are very grateful for that.
"He's also a leader in another way. This is our third major gift this year from some of our former athletes. Some of you know Andrew Bogut and Andre Miller have both given donations to the university and now Alex and we're very grateful for that. Although I do want to point out to the football team and all of you here from the football team that basketball leads 2-1, so those of you with the football program, there is more opportunity in the future.
"As we develop our athletic programs, the opportunity to give young men and young women a chance to develop the kind of leadership skills, the kind of athletic abilities and receive the kind of education that is offered here at this university is tremendous. To be able to go back to those athletes who have had those opportunities to help provide those for kids coming down the road in the future is just an extraordinary thing. It's foresighted, it's generous and it is leadership in the very best sense of the word.
"We have been proud of you, Alex, for years as our one of our great football players, but even more proud of kind of person you are, for the way in which you've represented the university and the way in which you continue to represent the university and continue to lead in very important ways. So I'm going to recite a line back to you that you actually recited to us. We asked Alex to speak at my inauguration dinner, because I figured if I were speaking no one would come and if Alex was speaking, people would come. Indeed that turned out to be the case. This is what he said: "We set a high standard, reached a new level and the Utes will keep getting better and better." Thanks to you, Alex and your generosity that challenge to us will become not just a challenge, but a promise."
Dr. Chris Hill, Director of Athletics
"This is a little strange, because I know you so well, Alex. But it's wonderful to be honored by people that we honor and being a part of our family in an interesting thing.
"Athletics is a very emotional thing. It is the highs and lows. Alex has had those. He's had the lowest of lows and the highest of highs and we were there with him all the way and it was fun. The highs were a whole lot more than that one low game, Alex. As time has gone on, I've gotten to know Alex and this is just who he is. He's the best of the best. He's a great student-athlete. He's a great representative of our community.
"This gift will be a springboard towards improving our strength and conditioning facility. It will be named after Alex Smith.
"I think this is a special time for us and his family. You must be so really proud and I know you're proud of who he is more than how many times he gets a touchdown and you've always been that way. I think Alex's humility is something that is really special for us.
"Your bond is special, Alex. It really is. I can't say it enough. To know that your name will be associated with this university and our athletic program forever is a compliment to us. As good a person as you are, I see that as a compliment to us. I'm so proud that I can be the person in charge of the athletics department and to watch your career rise and watch what you've done for us. This bond will be with us forever and we can't thank you enough. Thank you, Alex Smith."
Kyle Whittingham, Head Football Coach
"I want to thank Alex for this tremendous donation. This is a very generous donation, particularly so early in his career. I think that is unique. Most guys wait several years into their career or toward the tail-end to make a donation of this nature. I think that speaks of Alex's maturity.
"He's a man who is ahead of his time. He was the same way when he was here on campus. I mean, he graduated in two-and-a-half years. What more can you do to demonstrate the maturity and kind of person you are than that?
"He was a great leader on and off the field for us. He led our great 2004, 12-0 football team to a Fiesta Bowl victory. He was the catalyst for what we did during that year.
"The money is earmarked for the strength room. In this day and age of college football, it's an all-out arms race to get those facilities up to par. We have great facilities here at the University of Utah. But our strength room is one area that really needs a facelift. This donation is really a great way to get that done.
"We appreciate it, Alex, very much. Hopefully this will pave the way for some of our other NFL guys that are doing very well to pry open their wallets, follow suit and join the team here. I can't say enough, Alex, of how much we appreciate this. And for me, personally, thank you very much."