KANSAS CITY, Mo. --He's been a nerd, a savant, a jewel, a hermit, a genius, a savior, a goat, apariah, a phoenix, a victim, a spare part, and a savioragain.
Yet, when you peel away all the layers, the subplotsand the soap operatics, Alex Smith, the new starting quarterback of the KansasCity Chiefs, is the same skinny kid from San Diego he was a decade ago. It'severything around him that's gone bonkers.
As ahigh-schooler, his dad had tried to steer him away from football. At Utah, hewas elevated to a starting role because of an injury and never let it go.During eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Smith cycled through threehead coaches, seven offensive coordinators and six quarterbackcoaches.
Just as his NFL career was finally taking off, helost his starting role because of an injury and ... never got itback.
"When you're a young guy coming in and playingearly, I dwelled on it too much, I let it affect my play too much," saidSmith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. "I tried to pleaseeverybody. I guess I'm older and more equipped to just go out there and play mygame. I'm going to continue to try to work as hard as I can to get as good as Ican to try and reach my potential and try to win a bunch of games. And that'sthe goal.
"And I'm not worried about a bunch of otherthings. You know, when I was younger, I dealt with a lot of that. You thinkabout all kinds of stuff that you have no control over ... basically,everything, starting with what everybody thinks aboutyou.
"So for me, you really narrow your focus. Younarrow it down to, starting, for one, with the team, and me going out there anddoing my job and being accountable to them. And it goes out from thereobviously, (to) the organization, the fans. But for me, really narrowing thefocus, it's just being accountable to my teammates."
Aman is the sum of his memories, good and bad alike. At 29, Smith's road fromsouthern California to the Midwest has been long and winding, cruel anddelightful. But he hasn't walked it alone.
Smith's high-school coach at Helix (La Mesa,Calif.) High School, currently head coach at West Valley (Calif.) High School
"Whenhe played Pop Warner football, he was a tight end. He wasn't even really aquarterback.
"When I got the job, his (father, Doug)told me, 'I want you to know, I don't know if my son is the guy. I don't knowif he shouldn't be running cross country instead.'
"He couldbarely throw. Just a skinny, wrangly kid who couldn't throw. But I knew, inspite of that, that Doug, him and his uncle (John L. Smith, the ex-MichiganState and Louisville coach) were Idaho boys. I knew Alex was a tough kid, amentally tough kid.
"I can remember a camp when hethrew three picks. The defensive coordinator said, 'Get out of there! You can'tplay.' He doesn't remember this, but he was pretty much in tears. This wasbefore his junior year of high school -- it was the spring before his junioryear, spring of his sophomore year, at a passingcamp."
Then came a growth spurt.Over the summer, Smith gained roughly five inches in height. And miles in termsof confidence.
"He was the kind ofkid who would start coming up to you on Monday and say, 'Coach, what's the gameplan this week? I gotta know everything.' He wants to know the whole thing,what it's going to look like. So giving him little pieces here and there, thatmade it hard on him. There were times, toward the end of his senioryear, you would give him (the reins) and let him call the offenses. There weretimes you could watch and (be) thinking that, you would call the samething.
"But he looked kind of comfortable out there.He's such a quick learner. I always said, when he started struggling in SanFrancisco, I still think ... You've got to give him the wholetoolbox. I think when he first got to San Francisco, what happened was, theywanted to limit the toolbox with him. I think at Utah, they did a great job.They just kept throwing stuff at him and throwing stuff at him, and he did agreat job. Once he has all the tools, he can figure things out. He's a literalguy, sometimes. If you coach him in a very literal way, he's sharp as a nail.He will do exactly what you want him to do.
"I used tocall Alex 'the dumbest smart kid on the team.' Reggie (Bush) was the slowestfast kid on the team. With Alex, sometimes he kind of had those airheadmoments. But when you throw him in the classroom, he's really good. It took himlike forever to get to the field, he was so meticulous abouteverything."
While Bush was one ofthe most hotly-recruited prospects on the continent, the only Football BowlSubdivision offers on the table for Smith were from Michigan State -- where hisuncle, John L. Smith -- was the coach, and Utah. Wanting to avoid charges ofnepotism, he went with thelatter.
"If the right guy is coachingAlex, he's going to do what you're coaching him to do. I gave him as much as Icould give him. I think what really hurt Alex when he got to San Francisco -- Iknow (ex-coach) Mike Nolan was a defensive guy, (ex-coach Mike) Singletary wasa defensive guy. I don't think they really demonstrated belief and confidencein Alex, in ways that he felt it. ... I think Urban Meyer did a great job and(quarterbacks coach) Dan Mueller, I thought he did a great job withhim.
"Nobody could have gone through what Alex wentthrough and not be a mentally tough kid.
"Sometimes, heis too smart. That's why I said sometimes, you have to be careful how you coachhim, because he'll do exactly what you tell him. Guys like (Brett) Favre,they're going to sling it around and (make) a play that is just as good as thecalled play. He's not one of those guys. But he'll execute the gameplan."
Smith's quarterbacks coach at Utah, now headcoach at MississippiState
"Youcould just see -- he was always kind of a grown-up guy, even in college. If wehad a bye Saturday, he'd be at my house at 9:30 in the morning to watch the endof "College Gameday" and watch every game that came on (afterthat).
"(Backup quarterback and future Utah offensivecoordinator) Brian Johnson, he used to come over to the house. He's like,'You're a college kid -- don't you need to go out and have some fun? Go havesome fun and go be a college kid.' He always was so serious about that. I thinkhe still is.
"With his mom and dad and with his brotherand his sister, they're such a tight family; you put the whole family together,he's still the same kind of goofy Alex he was back then. It's always alaugh."
For a dumb smart kid, Smithhad serious chops in the classroom. He considered Harvard, Princeton and Yalecoming out of high school; his former mentors say he could've fit in at any ofthe three. Buoyed by a slew of Advanced Placement credits -- 64, reportedly --upon entering college, Smith earned an undergraduate degree in economics injust two years. He seriously weighed law school, a life in the realworld.
"He was kind of a nerd. When Ihad him, I called him 'Doogie Howser.' He always was that way. Despite the factthat he's this superstar NFL quarterback and his picture is all over the place,he's got this beautiful wife and a beautiful family, I always look at him (and)he's still got some of those 'nerd'qualities."
We're a week away fromthe 10-year anniversary of the first national moment of Smith's roller-coasterdecade, the one that put his football career on the fast track: Utah 31, Cal24, on September 11, 2003. Brett Elliott had won the Utes' starting quarterbackjob coming out of camp that summer; Smith was his backup. But Elliott hadgotten hurt the previous weekend against Texas A&M. Smith stepped inagainst California, rallying the Utes to a win before a record home crowd, andthe rest is ... well, youknow.
"Brett was kind of the cool guyon campus and Alex was just kind of one Saturday night, he's at my house,watching all the games, instead of out talking to girls.
"Hewas a guy that would come in, ask questions, always wanted to know more, alwayswanted to do more. He wanted to know everything. I think that's huge. It'susually, the first year, they figure out what to do and they figure out how todo it after that. He was a guy who wanted to figure out how we were fittingit (in) from Day 1.
"The 'why' -- especiallyat quarterback, the 'why' is what allows you to understand. When you're makingany in-game adjustments ... he (not only) knows what the play is we're going tocall before we call it, but also could make in-game adjustments to say, 'Hey,this is why we're playing (this).' He would know, 'Hey, this is why we're goingto change, because of how the defense is playing us.' I think it's one of thetoughest part of him having so many coaches over the years -- a lot of guyssay, 'Year 1, it's going to take a while to learn the system.' He wants to knoweverything.
"He's had wealth, he's had fame, he's had highsand had lows. And throughout the whole time he's done all of that, and do youknow what? To me, he's still the same old Alex Smith that you knew when he was18, 19 years old. And that, to me, is what's really so special abouthim."
Be sure to check back to FOXSportsKansasCity.com for the second of a two-part series on the making of Alex Smith.
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