That’s what it takes to be a great punt returner.
That’s what it takes to be Utah’s Antoine “Shaky” Smithson.
Smithson, who had a pre-draft visit with the Green Bay Packers this past week, was a first-team All-American punt returner after leading the nation with a jaw-dropping 19.1-yard average and two touchdowns as a senior.
And if you think that’s amazing, just wait until you hear about Shaky Smithson, the selfless brother.
We start where the stories merge.
“It’s just having a confidence,” Smithson told Packer Report when asked about the “secret” to his prolific punt return ability. “I think being from where I’m from, from Baltimore, growing up in Baltimore, I’ve seen everything and been around everything that you can imagine. I’ve seen murders, everything. Being back at punt returner and kick returner, you’ve got to have that confidence where nothing fazes you. You’ve got to concentrate and just make that first step before you even catch the ball.”
Smithson avoided a life of crime and violence just like he avoids tacklers hell-bent on driving him to the turf.
Along the way, he could have been tackled in the game of life. As the oldest of four sisters and three brothers, more weight was thrust upon his shoulders when his grandmother — the “backbone” of the family — died when he was 13. The next year, when he was supposed to be a freshman in high school, Smithson mostly stayed home to help his mom raise his siblings.
He gave school another shot the next year, and thanks in part to Douglass High School basketball coach Roger Coffield, Smithson got his life on track. He stayed active in football, basketball and baseball, as much for the fun of the games as the ability to frequently get out of Baltimore and away from trouble.
“Just seeing the life i didn’t want to have, just looking outside and seeing people standing on the corner, that’s something I didn’t want to do,” he said. “I stayed with a ball in my hand and tried to get out of the city, and I got that opportunity when I went to East L.A.”
Smithson enrolled at East Los Angeles Community College. While several of his friends back home were slain, Smithson thrived.
And that led to the most incredible step of all.
With Smithson being recruited by Division I schools, he chose Utah for one big reason: because it was the right fit for himself and his brother, Anthony — aka “Fish.” At the ripe old age of 22, Smithson — college student and star football player — became his 15-year-old brother’s legal guardian.
David K. Purdy/Getty Images
“My grandma instilled in me that it’s always about family and try to make somebody else have a better life,” Smithson said. “I just wanted my brother to have a chance at everything everybody else had and get him out of that situation in Baltimore. Growing up in Baltimore was tough for me and I didn’t want to see him go through that same thing and I wanted to take some stress off my mother. It was a no-brainer for me to get him.”
The brothers fit their schedules together. When Fish goes to Highland High School at 7 a.m., Shaky works out. Both are in class during the day and both have sports in the afternoon. Afterward, Shaky cooks dinner and helps Fish with his studies. Then it’s video games and straightening up the apartment.
“I’m sleepy right now,” Smithson joked of his daunting schedule. “I haven’t had some good sleep in a long time.”
It’s hardly the schedule of a typical student, but rather than have regrets about missing some of the fun and nightlife, Shaky speaks like a proud father.
“It was hard at first, being a college student and having to take care of a 15-year-old, but we adjusted well and he got a 4.0 GPA and he’s doing real well in football, as well,” Shaky said of his brother, Highland’s star quarterback, who figures to stay in Salt Lake City with friends for his senior year while Shaky embarks on his NFL career.
“It’s just a testament to our dedication to one another and taking advantage of our opportunities. He’s the definition of that. My brother, he helps me out as I help him out. He’s a very smart kid and I’m glad I got a chance to really get him when he was at that age where he could have went the other direction in Baltimore. He chose this direction and he’s doing great.”
Along with his explosive ability on punt returns, Smithson averaged 24.1 yards per kickoff return and caught 25 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns as a senior. Up next is the NFL.
“I’m just humbled by it and grateful for the opportunity,” Smithson said. “It’s just a dream come true. I’m just honored to be on the phone with a guy from Green Bay. I talked to (Packers director of college scouting John) Dorsey recently, and like I told him, just the hard work that I saw your program go through and how you accomplished your goal at the end of the year with the Super Bowl, it’s just a testament to what I’ve gone through in my life. It’s an honor to be in this situation.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.
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