Richard Davenport covers recruiting for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He appears weekly on The Red Zone w/ JB on 92.1 FM Fayetteville, The Morning Rush w/ Tye & Tommy on 95.3 FM in Fort Smith; 96.3 FM in Hot Springs; 104.3 FM in Harrison/Mountain Home, 99.5 FM in Fayetteville and The Zone w/ Justin & Wess on 103.7 FM in Little Rock.
The Recruiting Guy:
Following dad’s footsteps has receiver on right track
CJ Smith and his father St. Francis at the 2015 Junior Olympics in Iowa.
The phrase “Like father, like son” may apply in most cases for St. Francis Smith and his son CJ, but the love of track and field took awhile for CJ to embrace.
The younger Smith is a receiver target of University of Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman, and he happens to be one of the fastest in the nation at his position.
Smith, 6-3, 180 pounds, of Orlando (Fla.) Bishop Moore Catholic, finished his junior track season as the Class 2A state champion in the 100 and 200 meters on May 8 while helping his school when its first state title in the sport. He recorded 10.50 seconds in the 100 and 21.01 in the 200 while breaking the tape first.
The previous best showing by the school was a seventh-place finish in 1983.
While running at the Class 2A Region meet, Smith recorded the fastest 200 in Orlando area history when he ran a wind-aided 20.62 seconds. He also ran a wind-aided 10.28 seconds in the 100, which placed as the No. 11 junior on the Florida all-time, all-conditions list
Despite his speed, Smith was slow to warm up to sprints even though his father was an outstanding sprinter for Army.
Smith gave track a try in the seventh and eighth grades, but he didn’t run again until he was a sophomore. He participated in one meet before the coronavirus pandemic ended the season. He also qualified for the New Balance national indoor 60 and 200 championships only to see it canceled.
“To be honest, I just didn’t like it,” CJ Smith said. “I hated track. I didn’t want to do it. My dad said the whole thing about track and football go hand and hand, so I took that to heart and gave it another try.”
He recalls when he realized his father’s advice was paying off.
“When colleges started talking about my speed and it was one of the main reasons they were recruiting me,” CJ Smith said about the beginning of his junior year.
The elder Smith has been a big proponent of running track because of his own past. He started off as an unfocused 300-meter hurdler in high school before joining the Army at 17 years old.
“I didn’t know my true potential until I went into the military,” St. Francis Smith said. “The Army had what you call a world-class athlete program. You could try out and it was for the all-Army track team, and once I made the all-Army track team and really focused on my skills, I started to develop into a sprinter.”
While stationed in Germany a year or two later, he started to see his skills flourish.
“I remember my first meet, I ran like I want to say a 10.7 or a 10.6, and everybody is like ‘Whoa, you can run,’ ” St. Francis Smith said. “They said you need to try out for the all-Army team. My times started dropping and for a while my times were hovering around 10.1, 10 flat.”
He discovered his son’s running ability as a toddler while stationed in Hawaii as an Army flight medic. He often took CJ to the base to see the UH60 Blackhawks.
When an APU auxiliary power unit was used to start a helicopter, CJ was startled.
“It makes this loud noise when starting up the engine, and it scared CJ and CJ took off,” St. Francis Smith said. “I’m telling you, I had to drop my gear and actually run to get him.”
Several years later and after a move to Florida, CJ showed his sprinter speed at the 2015 Junior Olympics.
“The next thing you know, we’re at the Junior Olympics in Iowa and CJ is ranked No. 7 in the nation,” he said. “That’s when you knew this kid has speed.”
CJ’s breakout season came this year with the help of trainer Gary Evans after CJ committed to taking track seriously.
“We took him over to a professional track trainer that just focuses on the muscles that help him gain more speed, and he dialed in and he locked in on it,” St. Francis Smith said. “Next thing you know we got a state 100- and 200-meter champion.”
St. Francis, his wife Danielle and CJ are looking forward to making an official visit to Fayetteville from June 4-6. The elder Smith appreciates the communication his family has with Pittman, special teams coordinator Scott Fountain and receivers coach Kenny Guiton.
“I’m going to be careful when I say this, but it’s [Arkansas] one of my favorites because of the recruiting process and the relationships they not only built with CJ, they’ve built with us, and we’re just looking forward to establishing that fit,” he said.
After visiting Arkansas, the Smiths plan to officially visit South Carolina and Florida. The final two visits are undecided
The younger Smith appreciates his father’s wisdom and guidance.
“It’s one of the greatest things I can ask for. It’s having someone in your corner, guiding me in what not to do and what to do,” said CJ Smith, who also plans to run track in college. “Making sure I make smart decisions.”
Email Richard Davenport at email@example.com.
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