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Smith Leads Aquinas the Right Way

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Raiders coach has long history of caring for his players

High expectations and a crop of top notch talent describe Fort Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas High School football program - past, present and future. Now in his 36th season as head coach of the Raiders, George Smith has amassed more than 330 wins.

Highlights

By Paul Najjar
CatholicSportsNet.com (CatholicSportsNet.com)
8/9/2010 (1 decade ago)

Published in Sports

LOUISVILLE, KY (Catholic Sports Net) - The numbers are staggering.

  • 26 district championships.
  • Five Florida state championships.
  • One national championship.
  • More than 175 student athletes who have earned Division-I football scholarships.
  • Over 550 student athletes who have earned a college football scholarship at some level.
And this season should be no different. High expectations and a crop of top notch talent is what's in store for those who have Fort Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas High School on their schedule. At Aquinas, success will be earned. Often.

Coach George Smith is in his 36th season as head coach of the Raiders of St. Thomas Aquinas, where he's amassed more than 330 wins.

"The results have come from having a consistent coaching staff," said Smith. "Some of these guys have been with me a long time, over 30 years. Some have played here and now coach here. It's to their credit and the support of our administration that has gotten us to this point."

Serving as both head football coach and athletic director, Smith presides over a 4,500-seat football stadium named after one of the school's many heralded graduates - former Chicago Bears fullback Brian Piccolo. Smith and Aquinas are also able to boast a brand new 28,000 square foot state-of-the-art athletic facility that bears his name, the George Smith Athletic Complex.

Over the years, Smith has been offered coaching jobs at Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and Colorado to name a few. Several NFL teams have even called him for his services. But there's no moving this man. Seems he was born to coach high school football.

"My high school coach, Paul Larocca, had a tremendous influence on me when my father passed away during my senior year at Lafayette (IN) Central Catholic," Smith said. "The disciplined approach, caring about the players, it's all very important to be successful."

But this much success over this much time? From the typewriter/mimeograph machines to text messaging and the world wide web, Smith has the success formula down pat.

"Kids want to be helped," Smith said. "We set forth the expectations and hold them to it, even in today's society of instant gratification. Our tradition has been shaped and formed by the players from the past and we hold the current players to those standards set before them."

John Congemi, Aquinas class of 1982, was a starting quarterback for Coach Smith. He played at the University of Pittsburgh following Dan Marino, and is now a part-time assistant coach at his alma mater, as well as an ESPN football commentator. And throughout his experiences, it is apparent that Smith's lessons were integral to Congemi's success.

"The three most memorable things Coach Smith taught me are honesty, respect and toughness," Congemi said. "His teeth aren't as sharp these days, there are others who take care of those types of things, but his presence is huge. He expects a lot from his players and gets them to really care for each other."

The team's opening game this season is just another ho-hum battle..to be shown on national television via Fox Sports Net. At Texas Stadium. Yes, the one in Dallas that seats 80,000-plus. Smith is insistent in giving credit to past teams and players to Aquinas getting a game of this magnitude, which is a testament to the program's history.

"The tradition of St. Thomas is incredible," said Congemi. "(Smith's) a solid coach in so many ways. He really makes you believe you can achieve beyond your talent level and that's a real factor in the success for all of his players. The school has an incredible academic program and it's just a great atmosphere to experience as a teenager."

It's hard to fathom the talent that has been trained at St. Thomas Aquinas under Coach Smith. After all, the student-athletes don't walk in the door their freshman year as All Americans.

One such student athlete is Justin DuVernois (2nd team CSN Preseason All-American PK). DuVernois was a wide receiver until someone alerted Coach Smith that the kid could really kick a ball well.

"We saw him kicking the ball around, he did it well and we converted him to a kicker," said Smith. "Justin then went to a kicking camp at Illinois and the Illinois coach signed him on the spot. He's got a big time leg."

Accompanying DuVernois on the 2010-11 version of the Raiders are five more D-I prospects who make Aquinas a threat to win big again this season. Bobby Hart (2nd team CSN Preseason All-American OT; committed to Florida State), Phillip Dorsett (2nd team CSN Preseason All-American WR; committed to Miami), Rashad Greene (1st team CSN Preseason All-American WR; committed to Florida State), Marcus Roberson (1st team CSN Preseason All-American CB), and Jake Rudock (committed to Iowa) will lead the charge for Smith this year.

Talent is a big piece of the puzzle at St. Thomas Aquinas, but Congemi says there's more to it than that.

"So many players come back in the summer to see coach, to train at the school," he said. "I'm proud of playing for Coach Smith and his staff. His stories before the game get you so excited and jacked up to play. He makes you feel like you can run through a wall. When I'm there, I make sure to hear his pre-game speech."

While the coach may shy away from the press, the accolades and the recognition, he's quick to point out the special players he's had over the years.

Said Smith: "Our players take in new guys and do a great job getting them used to our style and our traditions. We take great pride in what we do and we've been blessed with really good kids."
Just as St. Thomas Aquinas has been blessed with a really good coach.

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