Football has helped Justice Smith open doors since his playing days at Amsterdam High School.
Now, he is making sure doors stay open for college athletes.
Smith, the career rushing leader in Section II when he graduated in 1991, is the athletic advisor for the football and men’s basketball teams at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.
“The biggest part of my job is to make sure our student-athletes are enrolled full time,” said Smith, who helped Boston College reach three bowl games during his collegiate career. “I was the first one in my family to make it to college, so I have a high regard for education.”
Smith is charged with seeing that all of the players he comes into contact with have everything they need to prepare them not only for their college courses, but for life after they leave the campus.
“Some of the players might be lucky enough to play professionally, but I tell them that at some point, their athletic career will end,” Smith said. “They are going to need that degree to be successful when that day comes.”
Smith has impressed Wildcats football coach Jay Hill.
“He cares about the student-athletes, and they know it,” said Hill. “He wants them to be successful, and they know it. He knows when the are not doing their part, and doesn’t accept excuses.”
The numbers back Hill’s endorsement.
“When I got here, our APR [Academic Progress Rate, which tracks academic performance for all Division I sports] percentages were low. That’s one of the things we had to improve,” said the 41-year-old Smith, who is married and the father of two young girls. “We got it up to 90 percent.
“You’ve got to make sure that they all hit their marks. Our goal is to make sure the programs are reaching their academic progress rate, so we can receive the full number of scholarships.”
Andrea Lauritzen, the head of the Wildcats’ Academic Services Department, was also quick to praise Smith’s effort and ability.
“It is an advisor’s responsibility to make sure they are aware of what is going on with the students they are responsible for, so we can keep them eligible for NCAA competition and moving towards graduation,” Lauritzen said.
“He works closely with the other two advisors, compliance, coaching staffs, and campus personnel [faculty, staff]. He brings helpful ideas and is a go-getter. He is focused, driven and productive.”
Smith finished his high school career with 4,124 rushing yards. His senior season, he helped the Rams to an unbeaten season and was named the state Class A Player of the Year.
But he always was mindful that any success he had on the field was dependent on success in the classroom.
“It’s no secret that my father was in and out of incarceration,” said Smith, who was raised by his mother and stepfather. “I owe so much to my mother [Silka Quiles]. and I never hesitate to praise her whenever I get the chance. She made sure I was on track.”
A knee injury in his senior year at BC ended Smith’s college football career, which was highlighted by his 147 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries in a 30-11 win over Notre Dame in his junior season.
After two years of rehabbing a torn PCL, Smith got the playing bug out of his system with a year of football with the Rovaniemi Arctic Circle Stars in Finland.
Returning stateside, he began building a resumé that he hopes will someday earn him an athletic director post at a Division I institution.
He spent eight years at the Crittendon Youth Academy in Phoenix, creating an athletic department from scratch.
Then came a stint in the Wayland (Mass.) school district, which led to his being named athletic director.
His current job presented an in at the Division I level.
“I saw Weber had a position available, and it was a way to get a Division I foundation started,” said Smith, whose wife, Paige, is a Utah native.
Smith’s background as a DI football player has served him well in his current position.
“I’ve got my BC helmet in my office. It creates a conversation piece, but it lets them know that I’ve played DI football and had some success,” said Smith, now in his third year at Weber State.
“It lets them know that I’ve walked in their shoes, and there’s no BS coming.”
“His athletic background helps him understand the mentality of the students and coaches, and how these and the political agenda of athletics all work together,” Lauritzen said. “He understands the mentality of football college students, so he can approach them in a way that they develop a strong, trusting relationship with him, which is vital for these young men’s success.”
“His background helps big time,” Hill said. “He understands what it is like, and the players know it because he’s been in their shoes.
“He is a smart thinker who is going places in this profession. We are lucky to have him.”