By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Most high school students loathe doing research for an essay or exam. It’s high on the list of least likely things they’d like to be doing, right up there with cleaning the garage, getting up early on a Sunday or mowing the lawn.
But when it came to where Holy Spirit junior running back Patrick Smith wanted to spend the next four years after graduating in the spring of 2021, he wasn’t about to select a college without doing the proper research.
The dynamic playmaker — who spent his freshman year at St. Augustine Prep and his sophomore year at The Peddie School, near Hightstown — rushed for more than 1,300 yards and 19 touchdowns last fall while helping lead the Spartans to a state championship. And those kinds of numbers tend to get a guy noticed. The offers started rolling in during the winter, and Smith said he knew he had to put in his due diligence to find the right fit.
“It came down to about five-to-seven schools; Lehigh, Holy Cross, Army, Navy, Yale, Colorado State. All those schools were recruiting me heavily, but with CSU, I felt the most comfortable with the decision for both me and my family about what was best for me. Between coach (Steve) Addazio, (running backs coach) Bryan Applewhite — they had a great connection not only with me, but with my parents as well, and that’s what I want. It’s not just about me, because my actions and my decisions affect my family as well,” said Smith, an Egg Harbor Township resident. “I felt as though they were most beneficial to not only me, but my family, and they can help me succeed and develop me into the great player I know I can be. I have 110 percent trust in what they are doing with their program. Coach Addazio is a great coach, when he was at Temple and Boston College they were winning big games. And coach Applewhite is one of the best running back coaches. I just fell in love with the coaching staff and the bonds they put the effort into creating, not only with me, but with my family.”
Smith said Colorado State wasn’t a slam dunk, however, as his parents also liked schools such as Lehigh, Holy Cross and Yale.
“They loved Lehigh and the coaching staff, and they liked Army, too. Army is a great school and the coaching staff was on me heavy. That was one of my final three schools. They also liked Holy Cross and Yale because academics are important and they know (going to those schools) I’d be set up well,” Smith said. “But the CSU business program is very good, and I know if I don’t make it to the NFL, I’ll still be set with my major. There are plenty of opportunities just outside of CSU, and those are some things I researched as well — what are the hiring rates for the different majors. I did my own research, and after showing (my parents) that I had done my own research, they fell in love with CSU as well and the opportunities I’ll have.”
The fact that Colorado State has a new coach in Addazio probably swayed Smith more than anything. Addazio coached at Temple from 2011-2012 and then Boston College from 2013-2019, where his teams were known for punishing rushing attacks. He also was an offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Florida when the Gators won two national championships.
“I know what I want to be as far as a football player. I want to be able to play at the highest level, the NFL, so sitting down and doing my own research with not only the football program, but the schools as well. I want to major in business and Colorado State has a great business school. I was doing my own research, and as far as playing at the highest level, I know I have a chance to go in there and start as a freshman — and I know the whole coaching staff there has great connections and will be able to help develop me to where I want to be so I can reach my dream,” Smith said. “There were other schools that could do the same thing, but this is where I think me and my family will be happy. I keep stressing that because my family is a big part of this decision. I just felt as though this is the best opportunity for all of us.”
Still, it was far from an easy decision.
“During the process — even before the quarantine — people were telling me it was stressful. In my head, I was thinking it couldn’t be that hard. But after getting the first two offers, and seeing more keep rolling in, I was like, ‘wow, this is a lot to think about.’ It’s not just football, it’s about academically what will set you up for after college,” he said. “It’s not like middle school, where you have four more years of high school, then four more years at college. After college, you’re in the real world. So, it was a big decision and it did get a little stressful at times, especially not being able to go see a lot of the schools that were interested in me. But CSU did a great job as far as the virtual tours and providing different information about the campus and facilities. I also talked to players on the team and saw how they benefitted from getting a new coaching staff, and that helped me make my decision.”
Before Smith can don the hunter green and Vegas gold of Colorado State, however, he and his Holy Spirit teammates must focus on defending their state championship this fall. And with star running back E’lijah Gray graduated, all eyes will really be on No. 4 this fall.
“Holy Spirit welcomed me with open arms. Before I even went to St. Augustine, that’s where I was going to go. I wasn’t nervous, but I was a little concerned. I didn’t think I would play as much as I did because of the simple fact that they had E’lijah there already. When I transferred in there was only a week and a half before we played our first game. So I had to learn all the plays, and E’lijah helped me a lot. I was a little concerned as far as playing time but it worked out great in the long run, and I’m very grateful and happy for that,” Smith said. “I’m excited. I’ve been working every day to get better during this quarantine. I can’t wait for this last season at Holy Spirit, just to finish out with coach (A.J.) Russo and my teammates. They’ve been very supportive of me in terms of my decision. As far as college, I talk to the (CSU) coaches just about every day. The offense they run fits me perfectly. They are a run-first team and I feel like I will get the most opportunity there.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays