YURVIEW WILL TELECAST URI VS. NEW HAMPSHIRE FOOTBALL THIS SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 13 AT 1PM. YURVIEW IS COX CHANNEL 4 IN RI.
With one thunderclap of a 72-yard touchdown run against a school hailing from the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, URI freshman Jaylen Smith brought honor and prestige to his hometown and high school.
The look on the face of Mike Murray, someone who’s known Smith for a long time, said it all after the two connected following the Rams going on the road last Saturday where they staged a 35-22 win over UMass. Murray coached Smith at the youth football level (Fairlawn Cardinals) and was an assistant at Pawtucket’s Shea High School when Smith carved up one opposing defense after another.
Q3, 0:13 – Jaylen Smith breaks away from the Minutemen offense and runs for 72-yards resulting in a….RHODY TOUCHDOWN!!!
This is Smiths first rushing TD and longest career rush.
— Rhody Football (@RhodyFootball) November 6, 2021
Still dressed in the Rhody road whites, Smith posed for a postgame picture with Murray; a sea of empty stands inside McGuirk Alumni Stadium serving as the backdrop. Earlier, spectators were treated to a local success story that’s rooted in fortitude and persistence … waiting your turn before your number is called. Then when the opportunity does come, run the like wind and don’t look back.
“I felt at home and comfortable,” said Smith about having a familiar face on hand to witness his breakthrough game with the Rams. “We looked at each other and said, ‘We did it.’”
At the expense of the Minutemen, Smith achieved the first of what figures to be many 100-yard rushing games as a collegiate. He gained 111 yards on 16 carries including his first career rushing touchdown – the aforementioned 72-yard gallop that came in the third quarter.
— Rhody Football (@RhodyFootball) November 6, 2021
Understandably, his phone lit up like a Christmas tree on the bus ride from Amherst back to Kingston. One of the individuals who reached out was Shea High head coach Dino Campopiano, someone who always believed that Smith possessed the talent to play at a high level.
Now, Smith finds himself in prime position to serve as a beacon of light to those hailing from Pawtucket and other ports of call from around the Ocean State.
“Showing others that a Rhode Island kid can make it in Division I football, it brings back hope for my city and state,” said Smith. “It was a blessing to be on that field. Playing an FBS school when you’re from the FCS, the stereotype is that the FCS team is supposed to lose. We were ready. I believe we won the game before we got off the bus.”
Injuries kept Smith from making an impact with the Rams during the program’s abbreviated spring 2021 season. In a sports-related culture where being told to wait one’s turn is countered by hopping in the transfer portal with the belief that greener pastures exist elsewhere, Smith succeeded in staying tried and true to the process preached at Rhody.
“A wise man once told me, stay and compete. You’re either going to leave and the same is going to happen, or you compete and get better and overcome your obstacles,” said Smith. “I’m not the type to run. Hopefully everyone who’s following me back home and anywhere in general understands that if you stay patient, good things will happen.”
Sometimes, you need a break to fall your way. Smith was afforded one as injuries started piling up to fellow members of Rhody’s backfield. Still, the Rams needed a reason to feel comfortable in handing him an assignment that would include him receiving the bulk of the carries. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, Smith kept working and working some more. With that came additional trust from the coaching staff.
Before his breakthrough performance last weekend, Smith logged back-to-back games where he received 11 carries per contest. It was a workload that proved he was trending in the right direction – he took a total of 25 handoffs over the season’s first seven games.
“If you put in the work and the time – the sacrifices – you can be where you want to be,” said Smith. “I knew I was going to play a role [against the Minutemen], but having a role is about doing your job.”
From the moment Jim Fleming arrived as URI’s head coach in 2014, his message to the R.I. football community has been about inclusiveness. If you’re a special talent a la Smith, there’s a place for you within state borders. In future recruiting battles involving R.I. -based prospects, Fleming and his staff can point to Smith and what he’s accomplished … using him as a prime example of a local lad finding his way at the local school.
“We’ve opened the doors. Hopefully to anyone who’s paying attention, they realize there’s an opportunity at URI,” said Fleming. “We would be thrilled to take Rhode Island natives to help build our roster.”
His star may shine a little brighter than it did at this time last week, yet Smith knows he’s only scratching the surface. There are more yards to be gained and more eyes to open – particularly those from his neck of the woods.
“Have to keep putting in the work. Can’t stop now,” said Smith.
Brendan McGair is a veteran sportswriter and columnist covering the New England Patriots and college and high school sports for the Woonsocket Call and the Pawtucket Times. He is a three-time winner of the Rhode Island Sportswriter of the Year Award. McGair is also the recipient of several Rhode Island Press Association awards.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03 and Instagram @bwmcgair