Tamron Smith’s story: From football star to another face in the crowd

Local News

Sports players enjoy the euphoria of fame while it lasts, but many are not prepared for the life that comes after it ends. 

Tamron Smith was introduced to football at six-years-old, playing with kids twice his age.

He was switched to defense in middle school where he was third-string running back. In sophomore year of high school, Smith’s football career started to take shape.

He was the first player in Youngstown South High School’s history to rush 4,000 yards. 

He later got a scholarship for Youngstown State University, where he won championships in 1991 and 1993.

“YSU was like a turning point of everything,” Smith said.

He said he was not prepared for life after football, however. 

“School was never a part of what I wanted to do. I just loved playing football,” he said. 

Dr. Jack Lesyk, a former sports psychologist for the Cleveland Cavaliers, said players need to have a Plan B, no matter how good they are.

Lesyk has treated athletes from all levels. 

“Those who were smart enough to have a plan B are going to be better off,” Lesyk said.

Smith did not have a back-up plan. 

“I quit school in ’93 thinking that NFL dream was going to happen,” he said.

Lesyk said in high school, many athletes have unrealistic expectations about turning into professional athletes. 

According to statistics, 30 percent of white high school players and 60 percent of black high school players think they will turn pro. Only 4 percent of players actually make it to college sports. 

Smith was a part of that 4 percent and even got a chance with the Cleveland Browns. But he was eventually cut. 

Running out of time and opportunities, the Washington Redskins offered Smith one last shot.

“I tweaked my knee a little bit,” Smith said. “I said, ‘Coach, I really can’t run right now. He said, ‘Son, you can’t make the club in the tub. Gotta let you go.'” 

Smith still dreamed of one more shot at the pros, but two months later, he was shot in the head — less than five miles from where he found glory at YSU’s stadium. 

“This is where my football career died,” he recalled.

Smith said he went to a bar on Youngstown’s east side. His friends ended up getting into a fight, which spilled outside where Smith was standing. 

“One guy punches me. Another guy came over his shoulder with a gun. ‘Boom, boom, boom boom,’ starts shooting at me,” he said. 

That’s when his football instincts kicked in.

“All I remember was just running, running, going over cars,” he said. 

The bullet went through the right side of his skull and came out of his eye, giving the shooter time to stand over Smith and point the gun in his face.

“I heard him shoot one more time, but the gun didn’t go off,” Smith said. 

Doctors saved his life but couldn’t save his football career.

“When I’m in the hospital, I know everything is over. Doctor says, ‘You’re going to lose your eye,'” Smith said. 

Smith only knew himself as a football player. To him, no eye and no football meant that he no longer had an identity

“It is extremely, extremely hurtful. Extremely, extremely painful,” Smith said. 

Dr. Lesyk said those who only identify as an athlete are often devastated when things don’t pan out. 

For Smith, depression quickly hit him. 

With no job and no Plan B, he had to regroup. 

“You just don’t find yourself in 10 minutes or two months or six weeks or a couple days. It takes a while,” Smith said. “I can focus on my education. I ended up graduating.”

Smith said the skills he learned ended up helping him climb out of rock bottom and find a purpose. 

“I knew I liked working with kids so that was my future and that’s what I did,” he said. 

Smith now coaches football and basketball at East High School in Youngstown, and he teaches kids the hard lesson he learned — always have a Plan B.

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