By Tim Graham
NEW ORLEANS -- What is Brad Smith?
He left college as a record-breaking quarterback, was converted into a wide receiver, was switched back to quarterback and then to receiver again. He's more like a running back when used in Wildcat formations and has excelled as a kick returner.
Whether Smith was with the New York Jets or Buffalo Bills, settling on a label for him has been difficult.
Five years ago, Smith started the True Foundation to help kids in his hometown, a decaying industrial city with limited opportunities. Smith's True Foundation was among seven finalists for the Bart Starr Award, given each year to an NFL player "for outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community."
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten will receive the award Friday in New Orleans at the NFL's annual Super Bowl breakfast.
"What we want to do is give kids hope," Smith said. "We encourage the kids. In Youngstown, there's not a whole lot to aspire to. These programs put things in front of them and give them some things to look forward to."
The True Foundation operates a summer football camp and workshops for kids between 8 and 16 years old. Last year, with the help of Fortune 500 companies, they staged a life-skills class for girls, who wrote out life plans for themselves.
"I'm most proud of the influence it has on them and how much they seem changed," said Smith's wife and the True Foundation's director, Dr. Rosalynn Smith, "even if it's just for that moment or to be able to carry something different with them home and hopefully have it stick with them."
Players commonly stage football camps, but Brad Smith wanted to do more. He sought to expose kids to successful people from various occupations within the community. The goal was to show kids what's possible.
"Brad Smith and his wife and the whole family are very down to earth and giving," Sylvia Logan said. "I'm proud to say he's from this area. What they do every year is very kind."
Logan's 16-year-old son, Jeffrey, has participated in two of Smith's football camps. Jeffrey loves sports and has Down syndrome.
"Anything that has to do with sports, if we can get him involved with it, he just likes to participate," Sylvia Logan said. It's time to play with other fellas. He was just so extremely proud of what he had done in the camps.
"Just the mere fact they let him participate was extremely exciting for us. I understand sometimes a place doesn't want to take someone with special needs, but Brad Smith and his wife welcomed him with open arms.
"They were so kind. It's just so touching. Having a child with special needs, when someone welcomes you inside, it feels so nice."
Jeffrey Logan, a freshman at Struthers High, has gone from Brad Smith's football camps to Special Olympics basketball and track and field. Jeffrey's excitement is symbolic of why Smith started the True Foundation.
"He comes every year and works hard and gets more mature," Smith said. "To see other kids encourage him and everybody come together as a community -- white kids, black kids -- really means a lot to us. It's pretty incredible."
The True Foundation is partially funded by NFL and NFL Players Association grants, corporate sponsorships and private donations for major expenses such as facilities, insurance, security and food. But Smith also spends out of pocket.
Smith and his family live in Orchard Park but intend to keep the True Foundation based in Youngstown.
"I see him work daily to do things like this," said Rosalynn Smith, who met her future husband at the University of Missouri, holds a doctorate in biological engineering from Texas Tech and has worked in intellectual property law. "I knew he was a humble person, but I didn't realize how selfless he was.
"He's not doing anything for recognition. It's never about recognition. And I never would have known that because as an athlete, you're always doing things to hear the crowd cheer or hear people say your name. He does this just because he genuinely wants to help."
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