FRESNO, Calif. – Ask Fresno State coaches and players about Matt Smith and you will hear some passionate responses.
“He’s our Bulldog,” says senior quarterback Jorge Reyna. “He fights, he keeps scratching.”
“And, really, he’s the smartest guy on the field,” adds lineman Syrus Tuitele. “I mean, he’s already a smart guy, but he works the hardest, too.”
“You would love to have 112 Matt Smiths on your team,” says head coach Jeff Tedford. “Just because he’s a phenomenal person.”
In Fresno State’s case, the Bulldogs only have ‘one’ Matt Smith. But the cool part is, when you have Smith on the field at center, it’s almost as if there are two quarterbacks out there.
“You know, I call him the real shot-caller,” says defensive back Juju Hughes. “He’s the real shot-caller, keeps everything going, you know? Quarterback gets all the credit but, hey, he’s down there calling all the real shots.”
And his teammates trust those calls completely.
“I know he knows what he’s doing, so I’m stress-free from that,” says Tuitele.
Matt Smith is a 4.0 student. As a sophomore, he was named a Mountain West Scholar-Athlete. So it’s no surprise he processes information quickly.
“It’s every play,” says Smith. “I mean, I gotta make sure my quarterback’s on the same page as far as protection or where we’re running. I gotta get the snap back to him as well, gotta be able to block the guy in front of me. Just communicating who’s working with whom up front, it’s a lot that goes into it. And it’s only about eight seconds!”
Matt Smith is a great example of what self-belief and hard work can do for a person. As a slightly undersized center coming out of St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, Smith was not heavily recruited by Division I schools.
“I knew from Day One I could play Division I, it was just a matter of my size,” he said. “I just needed the opportunity to go and prove it.”
Smith took advantage of a walk-on opportunity from then-Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter. Over the next three years, he put his head down and went to work.
“A lot of people doubted him,” says Reyna. “They didn’t like his size. He’s shorter than a regular Divsion I player. But he keeps fighting, he keeps going.”
And this year, his fourth year in the program, has been his best one yet. Matt Smith earned the starting job at center in fall camp. And roughly one week before the season opener at USC, he was put on scholarship.
“It wasn’t easy, but when (Coach Tedford) said those words, a feeling ran all over my body,” said Smith. “And I ran out and hugged my buddy, and told all my guys. I was just ecstatic.”
“I think we jumped him,” laughs Tuitele. “We just started pouncing on him, starting yelling, ‘Matt!’ Even the coaching staff, all the GA’s, we’re all just hugging Matt. He deserved it. It was like a movie scene, you know?”
Adds Tedford, “Matt Smith’s awesome. I mean, everything that he does, he’s a 4.0 student, a leader of this team. For a kid to come as a walk-on, earn a scholarship, earn the respect of the team, he got a lot of votes to be a captain, it just kind of shows what kind of kid he is.”