After years of hard work and staying focused on his goal, Union senior Justin Smith signed a letter of intent to play football for North Carolina A & T. He received a four-year scholarship.
Smith knew as a 6th grader that he wanted to play college football and hopefully after that move on to the big leagues. He also knew that to get that chance he had to be as good in the classroom as he was on the football field.
“When I started high school everyone said I had the body size to play college football and they said I could be the first one from Union to do big things in football. So I buckled down in the 9th grade and started working toward a scholarship,” the 6’2”, 230 lb. Smith explained.
His awards speak for themselves: All County and All Conference as a junior and a senior; MVP as a 9th grader on the junior varsity basketball team; and 2 gold and 5 bronze medals in track; plus Honor Roll all four years; High School Beta Club 3 years; and several years of perfect attendance, even in high school.
Smith had the eye of several colleges, but he said he had a better connection with the Aggies coaches. It was also important to him that the college he chose had as good an academic curriculum as it did a sports program.
“Education-wise, A&T has sports science, and I want to be a coach or an athletic trainer. Plus their football program is winning, and I want to be a part of a winning team,” Smith admitted.
When asked if getting this opportunity to play college football was like a dream come true, Smith said yes and no.
“This scholarship is a blessing and a great opportunity. I’m very happy, but it feels more like I’ve moved one step closer to my real goal, which is to make it to the National Football League.”
Smith’s parents, Jean and Dennis are extremely proud of their son and his achievements, both on the field and in the classroom.
Jean knows of her son’s dream to play professionally, and she hopes it will come true some day, but says she wants him to be prepared in case it doesn’t.
“He wants to play professionally, but I remind him to get a good education just in case that doesn’t happen. That’s the most important thing. You are a student first and then an athlete and I stress that everyday,” she stated.
She said Smith has always been internally motivated and they never had to remind him to do his school work. “He knew that schoolwork came first and he has always taken care of it.”
Smith is a role model for his brother Derrick, a 7th grader at Union Middle, and other boys in their Garland neighborhood, according to Jean, and she hopes he will continue to be even in college.
“A lot of the young boys in the community and at school look up to him, including his younger brother. I know he will go on to do great things in his life and I can’t wait to see what all he will accomplish,” she said proudly.
Union head football coach Doug Burley was thrilled that his defensive lineman has achieved at least a part of his lifetime goal.
“He’s a good football player and a real good kid. Justin kept his grades up and did what he had to do. He set his mind to getting the chance to play football in college and he did his part. I’ve very proud of him” Coach Burley stressed. “North Carolina A&T is a good football school.”
He added that Smith also had an offer from Western Carolina and was struggling to make up his mind. “It was a tough decision for him, but I told him that was a good problem to have,” Burley said with a laugh.