Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Steve Smith Retires: One of the Finest California Athletes of the 21st Century

Steve Smith may have been confused with the 5-9 Steve Smith down in Carolina but for me, his sudden retirement is a shame because it ends the career of one of the best all-around athletes California has produced this century.

I respected Smith while he was at USC but it wasn't until I started covering high school sports in LA that I realized just how great he was. He succeeded on all three levels in sports before he turned 25 and it deserves to be recognized.

1999-2003: While attending Taft High School in Woodland Hills, he had one of the greatest athletic careers in state history.  

- 3-time All-State 1st Team in football with two trips to the LA City Section finals.
- Consensus All-American in football and played in the 2003 Army All-American Game
- All-State Freshman/Sophomore/Junior selection in basketball and played an All-State level as a senior (25 ppg) despite playing alongside future NBA star in junior Jordan Farmar. He was an All-City performer all four years as well.
- Cal-Hi Sports' Athlete/Grid-Hoop Player of the Year in 2003
- Ran track in the 100 and on Taft's nationally ranked 4 x 100 relay squad
- Competed in swimming. Yes, swimming.
- Left Taft as the school's all-time leader scorer in basketball and until 2012, the state's all-time leader in yards and receptions.

My good friend Ronnie Flores at Cal-Hi Sports added that Steve Smith could've easily played Division I basketball and he was competing in three sports (hoops, gridiron and track) against national level competition in his section. His senior year in hoops, he not only balled with Farmar but in the LA City Section, he played against national powerhouses Westchester and Fairfax as well as other Division I talent all over the section.

2003-2006: Smith entered USC with one of the greatest recruiting classes of all-time and left with honors. A recap.

- All-American and team MVP in 2006
- Won a national championship in 2003 (AP) and 2004 (BCS), while catching 3 TD's in the 04-05 national championship game against Oklahoma.
- Left the Trojans 4th in receiving yards, 5th in receptions/touchdown catches. Mind you, he played with Reggie Bush/Lendale White getting plenty of carries and fellow All-American Dwayne Jarrett getting the primary attention so that's even more impressive.

2007-09: He was drafted in the second round by the New York Giants and moved up the ranks to become their best WR. All he did in 3 years?

- Won a Super Bowl ring as a rookie (SB XLII) and made a critical catch to set up the game winning touchdown.
- Improved his stats every season.
- 2009: 2nd in the NFL in receptions (107 - also a Giants team record), 8th in receiving yards and a Pro Bowl selection.

The sad thing is that after 2009, things changed. He had microfracture surgery in 2010 on his knee and his career was never the same. I had high hopes thinking he'd continue to be a top-flight NFL receiver but while he struggled to get back, I was also learning how great he was in high school during my brief time freelancing for Cal-Hi Sports.

I soaked up the knowledge of hearing what he was doing while I was in high school. It made me appreciate him even more. Even though his career is over, he accomplished as much as anybody on offense from that great USC dynasty, which is either sad or impressive considering the variables.

Yet he reached the heights of his profession. High school, college, the pros - he made his mark in them all. He achieved a lot in his career and I hope that while he's disappointed that it's all over, at least somebody appreciates what he did in a 10-year span that any kid would dream of.

Peace and props to one of the greatest athletes my state has produced and best wishes in his future endeavors.

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