Utah's Smithson more than big brother -- he's a legal guardian

Publish date:

He prefers to be called Shaky. It's the nickname that Antoine Smithson earned long before genetics kicked in and countless hours in the weight room packed 210 pounds onto his 6-foot-2 frame. As a six-year-old playing basketball and football in the projects of Baltimore, he displayed an innate skill for eluding trouble; he found he could simply spin and juke his way past bigger, older opponents.

He also kept clear of temptation. While friends were killed or ended up in jail, Smithson used sports as both a refuge and a way out. Now, he's thousands of miles and seemingly a world away from a neighborhood so crime-ridden police have affixed cameras to the light poles on every street corner. A junior wide receiver/running back for No. 19 Utah, Smithson is living in an apartment in the foothills of Salt Lake City, where he no longer has to wake up worrying about steering clear of senseless violence, gangs or drugs.

"That's home, so it's always going to be hard to leave home," Smithson said. "But at the same time you know you're leaving for a better life, and that's what you want."

The first thing Shaky wanted to do with that better life was share it with his 15-year-old brother Anthony.


Their day begins before dawn. Shaky and Anthony wake at 6:30 a.m., shower and eat breakfast. A Highland High teammate then picks up Anthony and takes him to school, while Shaky leaves for classes at Utah.

In the afternoon, they attend practice, and then they return home for dinner and homework. After that, they'll play video games, watch TV and go to bed.

The Smithson brothers have become creatures of habit in their new existence together. It's a life unlike that of the typical college student.

Earlier this year, Shaky became Anthony's legal guardian; there's no room for partying, but he's given his brother a new lease on life.

Shaky first tried to gain custody of Anthony while attending East Los Angeles Community College, but was denied because he "didn't have the support so I couldn't get him." He needed a Division I scholarship and a waiver from the NCAA to accept extra benefits. When he told Anthony he was transferring to Utah in February so that he could participate in spring practice, Anthony said, "The first thing on our minds was: when I come?"

At first, Lori Smithson thought Shaky was joking. When her oldest son approached her about Anthony joining him at Utah, she thought of all he would have on his plate, "but then I thought of Anthony being here; you know how hard it is living here," she said.

The single mother of seven ranging from 5 to 22, Lori has long believed that education can help people overcome their environment. Shaky is at Utah and her oldest daughter, Tamika, was a valedictorian and earned a full scholarship to Maryland. She wanted the same for Anthony. "So I just took a chance and let him go and I think he's got a better chance there then he does here in Baltimore," she said.

Shortly after arriving at Utah, Smithson approached coach Kyle Whittingham with the idea, and while there was immediate trepidation, he eventually gave Shaky his blessing.

"It is a big responsibility, but if you know Shaky, he's a very responsible kid; he's very mature," Whittingham said. "Once he laid it out for me and explained the situation it sounded to me like he was doing the right thing."

In February, Shaky began the process of getting his brother to Utah. Anthony became a ward of the state of Maryland, which retains custody, and Shaky became his legal guardian. Shaky then received a waiver from the NCAA, allowing them to accept financial contributions from local churches and charities which provide assistance to needy families. The money is deposited into a trust which can be accessed by a trustee and is overseen by Utah's office of compliance.

The Smithsons are also allowed to have Utah staff members and spouses transport and care for Anthony. But because he is of prospect age, further stipulations were put in place. For instance, Anthony cannot travel with the Utes to away games, nor can he accept any Utah athletics clothing. And if he is being watched by a staff member, they aren't allowed to dine or order out.

According to the NCAA, the Smithsons are the fourth family to gain a waiver, following the well-publicized case of Clemson's Ray Ray McElrathbey.

Anthony arrived in Salt Lake City in June and is thriving. A 4.0 student, he's a ninth grader playing on the Highland High sophomore football team. He has 10 touchdowns playing quarterback, wide receiver, running back, cornerback and kick returner.

He's attended the Utes home games to watch Shaky unleash his trademark "Baltimore Shake," those moves with roots from his adolescence on defenders. Smithson has nine catches for 56 yards and has carried the ball eight times for 48 yards. He's missed the last two weeks with an ankle injury, but is expected to play Saturday against Wyoming.

Their family may be separated but it is anything but splintered. Anthony talks to his mother daily, and while he misses his family, he's grateful to wake up and see the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges instead of trash-lined streets.


Shaky knows that he's beaten the odds. At Frederick Douglass High, graduation wasn't a given. In fact, making it through the ninth grade was far from a sure thing.

The subject of the HBO documentary Hard Times at Douglass High, which chronicled the school's lack of funding, unqualified teachers and sub-par test scores, Frederick Douglass sees 50 percent of its ninth grade classes drop out before the year is up.

Smithson is quick to credit those who kept him in school: his parents, siblings, basketball coach Roger Coffield. But more than anything, Shaky said he learned by watching the mistakes of those around him and decided he wanted something more. It's a maturity that his mother said has always been there, and it's why she never worried about him giving in to temptation of the streets.

"It would cross your mind because if you couldn't afford to buy them what their friends were wearing you wonder if they're going to go out and find a way to get it," she said. "It crossed my mind but I never really worried about it because of the type of person that Antoine was."

He hasn't been perfect. When his grandmother died when he was 13 and his dad was incarcerated for a short while, Smithson missed school regularly, staying home to help his mom with his brothers and sisters. He watched his honor-roll grades slip away and had to repeat the ninth grade.

But he's overcome the limitations of his environment and given his younger brother a shot at that better life. He stands as motivation for the friends he left behind, whose own accomplishments give him as much joy as his own or watching his brother get a chance to simply be a kid, instead of having any remaining innocence ripped away by the streets.

"I don't want to be just helping myself," Shaky said, "I want to be helping everybody else so that's it's not just me that's being successful, it's a lot of other people being successful."