Perfect end to Smith's college story awaits


Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

He wouldn't say exactly where his Heisman Trophy is stashed. Troy Smith was coy about the valuable stiff-arm.

Maybe because it represents so much.

"It's very dear to me. It means a lot. I put it away," he said. "It's in a very safe place. I want it to be my mother's trophy. I worked very hard but she did also. She deserves that trophy."

That's one reason it means so much. It represents the reconnecting of a boy who was taken from his mother when he was 9 years old. It represents Irv White, his midget league coach who became his foster dad. It represents Ted Ginn Sr., the high school coach at Glenville who worked so hard to turn him around.

It represents recovery and rehabilitation.

His is not your typical story of a Heisman winner. But that's why the Ohio State quarterback treasures the trophy. It's why he is not only basking in the spotlight, but embracing it.

"A lot of kids, a lot of men, don't get to do what I do," he said. "There's not much that can bring me down.

"I feel like I'm so blessed to be in this situation — to be alive, to be healthy, to be handsome — it means a lot."

The road to Arizona, to the biggest of college football stages, was littered with plenty of potholes. He sees what could have been when he returns to Cleveland and finds that childhood friends are not around. Some are dead. Some are in jail.

He escaped with a lot of help.

"The type of place we came from, it's hard," said his longtime friend Ted Ginn Jr. "It's easy to get swallowed up. There were a lot of things you didn't want to get involved in.

"I've heard Troy say that it took a university to change him."

It took more than Ohio State. And it took a long time.

Smith rarely speaks to his biological father. His mother spent time in jail forcing Smith and his sister Brittany to look for a place to live. They found it with White, who already was raising four children with his wife in a tough neighborhood.

His mother returned for her children. The reunion was rocky. It took a lot of family meetings before forgiveness was possible.

Now, they are closer than ever. Tracy Smith straightened her life out and was able to enjoy being a mother again. Troy still had a ways to go.

He was tossed from his high school basketball team for throwing an elbow against an opposing players head. Still, his athletic ability earned him a football scholarship to Ohio State.

The road remained rocky. Smith wanted to play quarterback but was on special teams as a freshman and played some running back. It was during the 2003 season that he was arrested (and later convicted) on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge the week before the Michigan game.

When he finally got his shot at quarterback, replacing injured starter Justin Zwick, he was known more for his running ability than his arm. But that was good enough to have a 4-1 record as a starter before the road took another turn. It was discovered that Smith took $500 from a booster and he was suspended from the Alamo Bowl as well as the 2005 opener.

He didn't start the second game that season either against Texas. But since then, it's been all Troy Smith.

"He wants to be in command of the game," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.

Smith is now 25-2 as a starter. He is remarkably composed player who has turned into a leader and a role model.

"It's like I'm reading a book about someone else," his mother said.

Maybe he wouldn't appreciate it as much if there hadn't been so much turmoil in his life. Maybe it makes this all that much more special.

"Somewhat," he said. "But I'd enjoy it either way. (When he was suspended) I felt like I was cheating my teammates."

Especially Ginn Jr.

"That's my brother," Smith said. "We've been through so much together. It's hard to believe we're the same guys with snot on our noses running around and causing trouble."

It's all difficult to believe, the whole story of a troubled kid who became a man, who had enough people in his support staff to save him.

There is one more game to play for Smith as the Ohio State quarterback. Already, he is considered perhaps the greatest quarterback in the school's history. He already has a ring, even though he was a redshirt in 2002 when the Buckeyes won it.

To win his last game would be the perfect ending to an imperfect career.

"If you win a national championship, that's the icing on the cake, the dotting of the I," he said. "Only the great ones do it."

Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or dooleyp@gvillesun.com.Dooley's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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