Utah player takes in younger brother
November 27, 2009
SALT LAKE CITY – Shaky Smithson feels as if he’s been switching positions since he arrived at Utah.
Receiver to running back, then back to receiver and sometimes quarterback, Smithson has lined up wherever the Utes needed him. The biggest switch of all has been at home, where Smithson has gone from big brother to legal guardian of Anthony Smithson, his 15-year-old brother.
“It’s just a situation that had to happen,” he said. “I had to get my brother.”
Shaky wanted to spare his younger sibling from having to deal with the dangers and difficulties of growing up in one of Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods.
It wasn’t that Anthony was a bad kid destined for trouble. He’s actually been following in his older brother’s footsteps for much of his 15 years. But there was an inherent danger in the old neighborhood and Shaky wanted to do what he could to keep Anthony from having to face the same temptations that he had seen claim so many others.
“It’s a tough environment for kids at the age between 12 and 21 because you’re still trying to find your way. There’s a lot of things that you can get caught up in,” he said. “A lot of people just make the wrong decisions. I had a lot of friends that made the wrong decisions. I’ve still got a lot of friends that’s doing the right thing too.”
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Shaky, whose actual name is Antoine, was one of the kids who made the right decisions, keeping himself out of trouble by playing every sport he could and excelling in football, baseball and basketball. He also helped his mother, Lori, raise his six younger siblings.
“She played a big role in this,” Smithson said. “It took a lot for her to allow her son to come out here.”
Shaky left home for East Los Angeles College, where he played football for two years and earned his associate’s degree before transferring to Utah last winter. Smithson enrolled in time to practice during spring drills and informed his new coaches of his plans for a roommate.
“It was obviously a huge responsibility,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s a very conscientious kid. Not just any Division I player could take that on, but he’s a special guy that has the makeup to be able to handle something like that.”
Shaky had to get an NCAA waiver so he could receive financial support from churches and other groups to support himself and Anthony. He also had to get permission from his mother, a hotel housekeeper who agreed Salt Lake City was a better environment for Anthony to spend his high school years.
“He’s always taken care of all my brothers and sisters,” Anthony said.
Anthony is only about 5-foot-6, but still has a few years of growing left and has the speed to almost keep up with Shaky, although the elder Smithson maintains he’s still got an edge.
He’s been grooming Anthony to be an athlete since they were children and the 13-year-old Shaky would throw passes to his kid brother at full speed. Anthony said he shied away from the ball at first, but that wore off and Shaky said proudly that soon he was a better receiver than kids several years older.
The brothers share a sparsely furnished two-bedroom apartment south of the Utah campus.
Anthony is a sophomore at Highland High School in Salt Lake City’s Sugar House neighborhood in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountain peaks east of the city. It’s a long way from Baltimore, which is precisely the reason Shaky took on the responsibility.
“He had a good school. In the school building, it was good, but once you get out of the school, you’re back to regular life. You’re back to everything else,” Shaky said. “They’ve got like cameras on every corner, but it pretty much don’t stop anything. A lot of drugs, a lot of violence, a lot of pretty much everything.”
Anthony agrees he’s in a better situation in Utah. His admiration for his older brother is obvious – he knows exactly where Shaky keeps a box with the recruiting mail he received before choosing Utah. Anthony lets Shaky do most of the talking, but chimes in with an occasional remark typical of a younger brother.
“I didn’t even know they had a college football team until my brother said ‘I might go to Utah – watch the Sugar Bowl,”‘ Anthony said. “I watched the Sugar Bowl and I thought they were good, so I was like, ‘Yeah it’s a good choice.”‘
Shaky enrolled at Utah a few weeks after the Utes upset Alabama 31-17 and finished No. 2 in the final AP ranking. He said part of his reason for wanting to bring Anthony with him was the help he received in junior college from his older brother, Tony, who would send what he could from his job at a Pepsi warehouse back home.
Smithson closes out his first regular season at Utah on Saturday when the No. 22 Utes visit No. 18 BYU. He will be a senior next year, when Anthony is a junior at Highland, but their plans after that are undecided.
Smithson has been known as Shaky ever since he started developing moves to elude bigger, older boys he was playing against on the city streets.
“I always tried to get my way around them,” he said. “I couldn’t run through them, so I’d shake them.”
The talent he developed as a youngster is what got him to Utah, where he has lined up at just about every offensive position except the line. He’s averaged 4.2 yards on 24 carries and scored three touchdowns, caught 10 passes for 58 yards and completed one of two passes. He’s also Utah’s leading kick returner.
“We’re fortunate he’s a guy that can do a lot of different things,” Whittingham said. “He’s a guy that is versatile enough to plug holes for us.”