When Christian Smith decided to play football for St. Anne’s-Belfield two years ago, it was on his own terms. Not because his dad played. Not because he was built like a football player.
“My dad played in the NFL, and there was a lot of pressure,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to follow that path but at the end of my sophomore year I decided I was going to do it for me so I went ahead and I did it.”
It makes sense then that when he decided he wanted to play in college, he did it on his own terms too. Smith got into UVa on his academic merits earlier this year and then reached out to the coaching staff about joining the football program.
“I never thought I’d be able to play at UVa,” Smith said. “Being able to get in academically, it just kind of came together. They saw my film and I saw them in person.”
Smith is now set to attend UVa as a preferred walk-on. A year after making All-ODFC in his first year of football as a junior, Smith earned a spot at an ACC program. His parents, Benson Smith and Anne Oliver are proud of Smith’s opportunity to play football, but maybe not quite as proud as they were when he got in academically.
“I think he, and my mom, were more proud of me getting into a school like UVa based on academics,” Smith said. “Like my dad said, he had to play. I gave myself the choice of continuing football and also getting into a school academically.”
To go from not playing as a sophomore in high school to getting a chance to be a part of an ACC program is a particularly heavy lift and Smith clearly appreciates his rapid rise in a sport that doesn’t usually favor those who come later to the game. Academics have always been at the forefront for Smith though, so he was able to write his own ticket to attend UVa.
“It’s a very humbling opportunity to play at UVa,” Smith said. “There’s a stark difference between someone who has to play and loves it and someone who chooses to play and loves it. (My dad) didn’t have that opportunity. I wanted to take the opportunity to do both.”
Smith was a critical member of the Saints’ squads the last two seasons, playing on both sides of the line while also doing some punting and kicking. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound lineman credited the opportunity to play multiple roles as instrumental to getting the chance to play at UVa, where he’ll likely start out as a defensive end.
“I think that helped me a lot,” Smith said. “I feel like a lot of college athletes don’t have that versatility. They come from big teams and played one position.”
He was also drawn to UVa’s program itself after meeting with the coaches and observing the program up close the last couple of years.
“I like their philosophy about their players, how everything is earned for hard work,” Smith said. “I think I got to where I am through hard work. I didn’t take any shortcuts. It really was through hard work that I was able to get a spot on the team after only playing two years of high school football. I’m going to be able to carry that over.”
If the last two years are any indication, that carry over could lead to some really big things.