Bremen’s Smith doesn’t let words get in his way040309/studio
Tony Baranek sports columnist (carol dorsett southtownstar newspapers)
Updated: October 27, 2011 8:20PM
If words came to Bremen’s David Smith as easily as yards, he probably wouldn’t be the subject of our forum today.
Much already has been written in these pages about the football abilities of the senior running back, who has led Bremen to its first playoff appearance since 2006 and is being courted by several major colleges.
I’m not even sure we would say that David Smith is as much the subject as he was the conduit for one of the real feel-good stories of the 2011 season.
Smith, like more than 68 million people across the globe, has a speech impediment, which at times causes him to have some difficulty in speaking.
The impediment isn’t severe. It doesn’t affect his ability to do anything he wants to do. He’s a great student, and I’m sure he will succeed at whichever college is lucky enough to get him.
Smith seemed comfortable talking about it with me Thursday. Or maybe, I should say, confident.
“When you’re confident in yourself the words just flow out,” Smith said. “But if you’re nervous at times, like when you’re anxious about something that happens ... ”
Things can get difficult.
“It really hit me in my eighth-grade year when I had to give a speech in front of the class,” Smith said. “When I first started off it was like I was stumbling. Then, as I got going, it came out. But it was a crazy experience.”
As a teen, he has not been immune to awkward moments.
One of them occurred after Bremen’s victory Sept. 16 over Oak Forest. Approached with a video camera by an interviewer for an Internet site, Smith got caught up in the excitement.
“Anybody, when you have a camera in front of your face, you know you can’t mess up, do anything wrong,” he said. “I was happy and nervous at the same time, kind of in shock. The words came out, but I would stumble at times.”
After the interview appeared on the web, Smith caught a little bit of ribbing at school.
“It was teammates,” he said. “It kind of bothered me, but I didn’t tell them that it did because it was on the friendly side. They weren’t trying to be mean or anything.”
Braves coach Dan Stell said he overheard some of the banter and was concerned the experience had shaken up Smith a bit.
Smith’s speech impediment was a subject they’d talked about often. As a kid, Stell himself was in speech therapy. He already had been working with Smith on techniques he could use to better articulate his words.
This time Stell went a step further. He called former Andrew teammate and current New York Jets special-teams coach Ben Kotwica to ask if there were anybody on the squad who might be able to give Smith some encouraging words.
“All I wanted was maybe an email from someone to give him a little boost of confidence and assure him that this is a very common issue that he’s dealing with,” Stell said.
New York Jets guard Matt Slauson did so much more, readily offering to talk with Smith on the telephone.
“As (NFL) players, we don’t do enough of those things,” Slauson said. “So every time I get an opportunity to give back I want to do it.”
Slauson related to Smith his own story.
“I kind of had a double whammy,” said Slauson, a three-time All-Big 12 player at Nebraska. “I stuttered extremely heavily when I was a kid. I couldn’t really get out words until high school. Plus, I was always a big kid, so I got teased a lot for both.
“I just told him that confidence in himself is a very important thing,” Slauson said. “With a lot of offers to some big-time schools, he is going to be in the spotlight, and with a speech impediment like ours it can be difficult.
“I just told him to be himself, ‘Get up there and be you. Be confident.’ ”
Slauson’s words had an immense impact on Smith, who Thursday still smiled at the memory of their conversation.
“I want to thank him for talking to a young high school kid,” Smith said. “He’s in the NFL now. For him to take time out after practice to call me and tell me his story, it motivated me, like, this is who I am. I’m me.”
And happy to be.
“Yeah, heck yeah, I am, man,” Smith said, laughing. “I love myself.”