Get George Smith talking about his former St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) players. The list goes on and on.
And he has stories for all of them.
There are 14 St. Thomas Aquinas athletes currently playing in the NFL, and three of them — Los Angeles Rams CB Lamarcus Joyner and New England Patriots RB James White and WR Phillip Dorsett — will be on the field for Super Bowl LIII.
Two others with connections to the school, Chris Shula and Eddie Grayer, coach for the Los Angeles Rams.
Over 34 years (1975-1992, 1994-2010) as the St. Thomas Aquinas head coach and 37 (1982-present) as the athletic director, Smith has an innumerable amount of memories. But his specific ones about players come off the field.
“These guys were not goofballs or distractions in the high school program. They were good role models,” Smith said. “Like James White – unbelievable. Never. Not. Smiled.”
The only time Smith saw White not smiling, he said, was in 2009. The team had gone undefeated in ’08 and was named National Champions. They were heavy favorites in White’s senior year and were on track to do so again — but were upset by Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.) in the state semifinal.
White was much happier after winning the Super Bowl in 2017 with the New England Patriots.
“I text James, probably right after the game, maybe 20 (minutes after) — they were right on the field,” Smith said.
“I text him, I said ‘James, so proud of you, love you man.’ So about, I would say, 30 minutes after that text, (he responds), ‘Coach, I appreciate you, and I love you. Bye.’ That’s it. That’s the way he was, that’s the way he is.”
Dorsett was also part of the 2009 team, and then helped the 2010 squad reclaim glory by going undefeated again as Eddie Grayer, now a Rams assistant strength and conditioning coach, joined Smith’s staff.
“Dorsett – never problems,” Smith said.
He lined up with a teammate who will be an opponent Sunday – Joyner, who played wide receiver and defensive back for St. Thomas Aquinas after transferring for the 2009 season.
Smith remembers Joyner as a respectful, responsible high school student despite a turbulent upbringing chronicled by the Miami Herald.
“It was a tough deal, but I’ll tell you something,” Smith said. “We had uniforms that the kids liked to wear. He and his mother, when he walked into school, brought the pants pressed … He was the deal.”
Joyner stayed away from negative influences, according to the Miami Herald article: He never smoked, never drank, and “wasn’t going to disappoint my mama.”
His experiences helped influence younger classes.
“Any kid in PE, or kids that were (mis)behaving in the freshman (class) in school, I’d bring them down and I’d bring Lamarcus in and I’d just get out of the office, close the door,” Smith recalled fondly. “I have no idea what Lamarcus talked about with those guys, but I had no problems with those people anymore.”
Joyner will face Dorsett and White on Sunday. With him on the Rams side will be Grayer and assistant linebackers coach Chris Shula, the grandson of Don Shula and St. Thomas Aquinas alumnus who played football from 2001-03.
Shula attended Miami Ohio with Rams head coach Sean McVay, where they became close friends and roommates.
He’s full of Raider connections. He went on to graduate school at Oklahoma, where athletic director Joe Castiglione was another St. Thomas Aquinas grad.
In 2015, Shula began his NFL coaching career with the then-San Diego Chargers, where he coached Raiders alumnus Joey Bosa before joining McVay’s coaching staff in 2017.
“We were blessed – blessed – with the great kids we had,” Smith said. “We had good players, we had, at one point, 16 guys in the NFL.”
The list goes on. Matt Patricia, who participated in Super Bowl LII as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, is the head coach of the Detroit Lions. He taught and coached at St. Thomas Aquinas.
In 2016, Smith called 1984 graduate Michael Irvin late at night after the Hall of Famer finished his Thursday Night Football coverage. St. Thomas Aquinas was in Las Vegas to play powerhouse Bishop Gorman.
“I said, ‘Mike, it’s Coach, I need you in Vegas. We’re playing Gorman.'”
The next day, Irvin jumped on a flight from New York to surprise the players and watch the game.
The list goes on.
“We had great players, but we had great humans,” Smith said. “And that’s what you’re doing as a high school guy, is get them through school, teach what they’re supposed to do. And we were very blessed having those types of guys.”