Alex Smith gained a hands-on education in two areas at a young age that helped prepare him to make a college decision: the value of hard work and the importance of understanding business.
Smith, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound cornerback from Culver City, Calif., is one of 20 signees in Wisconsin’s 2018 football recruiting class. But his dad, Samuel, is quick to point out that he became a member of the Badgers’ program for reasons that go beyond football.
Alex’s mom, Quintella, owns three Southern-style creole restaurants in the Los Angeles area. As a result, Alex was indoctrinated into that world several years ago, assisting in every way he could between school and football to learn how businesses operated from the back end. He unloaded vans full of goods, put potatoes, sugar and produce in their proper storage containers, cleared the tables and seated patrons as a restaurant host.
All of those experiences played a part when it came time for Alex to pick a school.
“He and his older brother had dissected about 10 different universities, and Wisconsin’s business school just stood out with him,” Samuel, who works in real estate, told Land of 10. “When he made his decision at Wisconsin, he had a pretty good idea of what he was looking for in a program.
“I think the key thing was when we visited Wisconsin, academics was before football. Every person we sat down with, they expressed, ‘Your son can get an education and a degree here, and that’s our main focus.’ And one of the coaches said, ‘The only way you leave Wisconsin after four years without a degree is you just don’t want one.'”
Alex Smith, a four-year honor roll student who three times has been named a scholar-athlete, is eager to apply what he has learned off the field when he arrives at Wisconsin. But he is equally excited about what Wisconsin’s football program can provide.
Smith earned scholarship offers from Army, Navy, Boston College, Idaho, Cal Poly and Wisconsin. He got the Wisconsin offer in late May and committed two weeks later after visiting campus. Smith was supposed to see a couple of schools after a family trip to Madison but decided he didn’t need to go anywhere else.
He cited the program’s winning tradition and reputation for working hard as factors in his decision.
“When I took my trip in the summer of 2017, it just felt like home,” Smith said. “As soon as I got off the plane, as soon as I got to the campus, everything just felt so right. It was that feeling that I felt in my heart. From meeting the coaching staff, the people in the town, meeting the players, seeing the facility, seeing the tour of the school, it felt like a home away from home.”
Culver City High football coach Jahmal Wright said opposing quarterbacks threw at Smith often during his junior season because his teammate, senior Mekhi Ware, had developed a reputation for being a shutdown corner. Ware went on to play defensive back at Indiana State. Smith finished that season with 64 tackles, 1 interception and 5 total touchdowns to earn second-team All-Ocean League recognition. He also was named a team captain as a junior, one season after earning team MVP honors as a sophomore.
Alex Smith’s senior-season highlights
Wright’s connection to Wisconsin wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore ultimately led Smith to the Badgers. Wright played tight end at Kansas, and his position coach in 1999 was Gilmore. When it became clear Smith had the skills to be an FBS player, Wright told Gilmore he would send Wisconsin’s coaches film on Smith.
“I don’t call him unless I know I have a bona fide, really good player that’s a good student-athlete and I know can compete on that level,” Wright said. “I thought Alex could compete on that level. As soon as they looked at the film, they loved Alex. They loved his size. They loved his junior film and the potential he had. It just went from there.”
Gilmore, who has quickly developed a reputation as one of the best recruiters on Wisconsin’s coaching staff, served as the lead recruiter on Smith. The fact that Gilmore previously worked as the Oakland Raiders receivers coach intrigued Samuel, who grew up a Raiders fan. But the most important element was the relationship the Smith family built with Gilmore and the rest of Wisconsin’s coaches.
Quintella described Wisconsin’s staff as “incomparable” because they were truly genuine in their approach, which contributed to the family’s decision. Badgers coach Paul Chryst also played a major role.
“Coach Chryst and I can go to Men’s Wearhouse and pick out clothes for each other,” Samuel said before breaking into laughter. “He’s a real cool guy. From Day 1, we were just gentlemen with each other. I appreciate that.”
Quintella said the Smiths taught their children the importance of dreaming big and working hard. Alex told Quintella as a freshman in high school that his parents wouldn’t have to worry about paying for college because he would earn a scholarship through football. Alex consistently worked toward that pursuit, fitting in weight room sessions, extra footwork drills and time for a personal trainer three days a week. He also participated on the baseball and track teams in high school.
“What makes Alex a special player is his work ethic,” Wright said. “I’ve watched him over a four-year span. He’s bar none the hardest worker that I’ve been around as far as a football player is concerned, in the weight room, in the film room, on the field. And he’s always improving. He’s always looking for an edge.”
Smith, a 3-star prospect, finished his varsity career with 24 total touchdowns and 9 interceptions. As a senior, he recorded 49 tackles, 3 interceptions and 9 touchdowns and helped lead his team to the state semifinals. He was a versatile threat because of his ability to play wide receiver, as well as return kicks and punts. Wright said Smith returned 5 kicks and punts for touchdowns as a junior and 3 more kickoff returns for scores as a senior. He could return kicks and punts at Wisconsin.
Smith said he already had spoken to several of Wisconsin’s defensive backs, including Caesar Williams and Faion Hicks, as well as outgoing cornerbacks Nick Nelson and Derrick Tindal, to gain a better perspective on what to expect. But he said he believes his experiences, both on and off the field, have prepared him for the next level.
“As a defensive back, I would say I’m just an overall playmaker,” Smith said. “You can put me into any situation, on the outside, covering the slot, and I’m just a lockdown DB.
“I see myself fitting in wherever they want to put me. Outside, slot, if they want to move my position to safety, I’m all down for it. I’m just going to go in there with that work hard mentality and see where they put me.”