STEVE HANLON: Never ever let the dream die

2013-12-19T18:00:00Z 2013-12-26T18:44:11Z STEVE HANLON: Never ever let the dream dieSteve Hanlon Prep Beat nwitimes.com
December 19, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

It would've been real easy for Antonio Smothers to quit.

Mail it in. Let his dream die. Easy. Real easy.

Smothers graduated from West Side in 2011 after playing three great seasons at linebacker. He admitted he was lazy as a student his freshman and sophomore years.

He didn't qualify for a Division I scholarship, so he went to Arizona Western College. He was asked to redshirt. Things went downward from there, so he returned to Gary.

But his head wasn't down.

Calls were made and another chance at Scottsdale Junior College arose from the ashes. Smothers went back to the Arizona sun and started to shine. It was a PAC-12 light that was upon him.

On Wednesday at his alma mater, Smothers signed to play football at Arizona next fall.

"What kept me going was my faith in God and prayer," said Smothers, who is home for his Christmas break. "The only thing I've ever wanted to do was play football. I wanted to prove the coaches who cut me wrong."

Smothers played for Gene Johnson and Alexander Pratt at West Side, but current Cougars coach Jason Johnson was in the building during Smothers' senior year of high school.

Jason Johnson was also there when he returned from Arizona Western. He has two words for youngsters who want to play football on Saturdays in front of thousands. The first is tough.

"We've been through the process a lot this year," Johnson said. "We had a kid going to Ohio State (Lonnie Johnson), kids being recruited by Indiana (JonVea' Johnson), and it's all the same. D-I coaches come in here, but when they see the transcripts, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, they get up and go to the next high school."

It doesn't matter how good you are on the grid. It's what you do in the classroom that matters most. And that will carry over once your playing days are done.

Smothers credited both Pratt and Johnson for letting him see the academic light, even though it was too late.

"Always keep your grades right," Smothers said. "If I could go back and do it right, I would."

But in this season of hope and gifts, coach Johnson's second word is just as important. Never give up on your dream, no matter how many times you get a jab in the jaw.

"Very few kids go this route and make it this big," Johnson said. "It shows a lot about what kind of kid Antonio is. He corrected what needed to be corrected. He worked hard, and his dream finally came around."

The emerging Cougars football program has meetings with parents to let them know what each student-athlete must do to be eligible for D-I football. Sadly, though, he said those meetings aren't well-attended by the guardians.

That has to change. It doesn't take a village. It takes a family.

How good is Smothers? He had offers from Miami, Kansas State, Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky and Cincinnati, among others.

His dream and fight to keep it alive is admirable, but what he did is rare, kids. Hit the books early, and your opportunities will explode.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at steve.hanlon@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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