The six athletes who were awarded $10,000 scholarships on Monday at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Chapter of the National Football Foundation/College Football Hall of Fame awards luncheon could have made plenty of excuses along life’s journey.
They had all the reasons to.
But they didn’t.
Take Alex Smith, for example.
Smith, a senior at L.W. Higgins, couldn’t squeeze his entire life story on the one-page essay that he had to submit.
The two-sport star has been through way too much to get it all on there.
He lost his mother when he was 6 and his grandmother last October.
In between, he bounced around from house to house, living with various family members.
He lived some of the time with his father, who was in and out of jail growing up.
But Smith, like the other five winners announced at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, didn’t let any of the hurdles life threw at him slow him down.
“When my mom passed away, it was really tough,” Smith said. “She was the one always there for me, and when she passed away, it was very tough. But my sister and my grandmother motivated me. They would always tell me that my mom was looking down on me, and she thinks you are going to be a great success.”
His father, Alex Smith Sr., couldn’t hold back his tears.
“I’m so proud of him,” he said.
So was Alexia, who let out a scream when she realized that her brother was one of the winners chosen among the 37 athletes on stage.
“I’m thrilled,” she said. “It was real tough because we were here and there. But he just has so much determination. He was always a leader. I think he gets that trait from our mom. She was like that.”
But Alex also gives much of the credit to his sister, just three years older.
“She basically raised me,” he said. “She is a strong girl. She’s my big brother, my big sister, my everything.”
Smith, who played cornerback in football and was a guard on the basketball team, will play football next season at Wabash College in Indiana.
He carries a 3.36 grade point average and scored a 23 on the ACT, while also being actively serving as a tutor.
“He is just a strong-willed kid,” Higgins football coach Craig Laborde said. “A lot of credit has to go to his older sister, who pretty much raised him and kept him on the right track. He’s kind of a throwback. In my generation there were a higher percentage of kids who used sports and academics as a way out. You don’t hear those stories as much today. It’s a testament to the kind of kid he is. Kids like him are few and far between.”
There were plenty other success stories alongside Smith.
Chase Jenkins of Northlake Christian was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 8 years old.
“It’s traumatic to go through that when you are 8,” said Jenkins, who played on the offensive and defensive line at his school. “I lost my friends and my ability to play sports. I didn’t play sports for about three years. I went to Northlake, and football helped me overcome my illness. It was very rewarding. All my hard work has paid off.”
Jenkins was given a clean bill of health on June 19, 2014.
The other four winners were McColl Simons (Country Day), Victor Quinonez (Brother Martin), Nathan Faciane (Lakeshore) and William Briggs Simpson (St. Paul’s).
They, too, overcame their share of setbacks.
Simpson’s family had to basically start over after Hurricane Katrina wiped out property they had just purchased in the city. Faciane’s stepfather had his leg amputated a year and a half ago. Quinonez, who broke his ankle as a junior, talked about the sacrifices his parents made.
“They sacrificed everything they had, working more than one job, for me to go to Brother Martin. This award is me giving back to them,” he said.
And then there was Simons, the busy body of the group. He sports a 4.2 grade point average and scored a 29 on his ACT. He did that while lettering in four sports during his time at Country Day. He also is in concert band, jazz band and works as a field sales manager.
For Simons, his obstacle was going through his parents’ divorce. It was an amicable one, he says, which taught him a lesson.
“The way my parents handled it showed me that you get to decide the way you react to the tough situations you’re given,” Simons said.
It’s a lesson that all five of the other winners would agree with.