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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lucky number: KU safety Lubbock Smith trades in No. 13 for No. 1 — a nod to his past

Kansas University safety Lubbock Smith is tied as the Jayhawks’ fifth-leading tackler heading into Saturday’s game at Iowa State.

Kansas University safety Lubbock Smith is tied as the Jayhawks’ fifth-leading tackler heading into Saturday’s game at Iowa State.

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Lubbock Smith wanted to go back to his roots with his jersey.

Wearing No. 13 last season, the Kansas University safety broke his ankle in the Texas game. The injury ended his season, one in which the Jayhawks lost their last seven games.

When he received the good news this summer, Smith knew he had to call his godfather, Willie Weeks.

“Dad,” Smith said over the phone, “I finally got that No. 1 back.”

Weeks would best understand the significance.

After all, if it hadn’t been for Weeks — and also the No. 1 jersey — Lubbock Smith wouldn’t be at Kansas University right now.

And he certainly wouldn’t be playing college football.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Kansas defensive coordinator Carl Torbush has seen fast improvement this year from Lubbock Smith.

The 6-foot, 206-pound safety is picking up defensive schemes more quickly, while also becoming more consistent in different types of coverage.

There’s something else striking about Smith to Torbush, who has been coaching college football players since Gerald Ford was in office.

“He’s just a sophomore, but in my mind, I think of him as a junior or senior,” Torbush says, “just because of the way he looks, his maturity level.”

Smith — tied as KU’s fifth-leading tackler — says there’s good reason for his no-nonsense demeanor: He learned it the hard way from his father, Lubbock Jr., long ago.

“I always want to do the right thing and never mess up in life,” Lubbock says, “because you never know what you’re missing out on later on if you make a mistake.”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Yolanda Smith took her 10-year-old son to Planet Hollywood on the West End Marketplace in Dallas.

She hadn’t rehearsed what she was going to tell Lubbock, but she mustered the courage to start talking as they walked away from the restaurant.

There was a reason Lubbock hadn’t seen his father in 10 days, Yolanda said to him. She paused before speaking words that would change his life forever.

Lubbock’s father was in prison.

Lubbock didn’t fully process everything until he made it home later that night.

He finally asked his mother a question: How many years would his father be in prison?

Yolanda has never forgotten the look on Lubbock’s face after her answer.

The 10-year-old put his hands to his stomach. His entire body hunched over. His head fell toward the ground.

The response — “Ten years” — had literally made Lubbock Smith ill.

“I felt like I lost my best friend,” says Lubbock, who still isn’t comfortable talking about why his father ended up in prison. “I just really lost a part of my heart.”

Lubbock’s father always had allowed him to go outside and play football as long as his chores were finished. He would coach his son up, too, telling him to show his aggressiveness on the football field. The father never missed one of his son’s games.

Lubbock had lost his motivation to play football. He told his mother he didn’t want to go to practice, saying he just wanted to stay home. Yolanda said that was OK.

At 10 years old, Lubbock Smith was content to give up football forever.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

On Aug. 8, 2000, Willie Weeks made his way to the second house on the right, behind a Church’s Chicken on Overton Street in Dallas.

This was where he was told Lubbock Smith would be.

His team’s roster had taken him to the wrong apartment the day before. The person who answered said that the Smiths had moved to a different address.

Weeks asked his players at practice if they knew where Lubbock lived. One parent gave Weeks directions.

The youth football coach knocked on the door.

A few seconds later, Yolanda answered.

“Is Lubbock there?” Weeks asked.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

After bringing Lubbock Smith back to football, Willie Weeks says he couldn’t help but grow closer to him.

The coach also would give Lubbock pep talks, speaking to him about being responsible and making the right choices.

Weeks became Lubbock’s godfather, but he ended up being more than that.

Lubbock started calling him Dad.

Weeks had Yolanda’s blessing, too. She knew that, as a single mother working full time for the Department of Education, she wasn’t fully equipped to raise a young boy to be a man. Lubbock needed a man to help with that.

Weeks, meanwhile, couldn’t help but think of his own past when he saw Lubbock.

Weeks’ father had passed away when he was 13, and his youth football coach, Gus Jones, took him to his first Dallas Cowboys football game. He also invited Weeks over to his house to eat with his family and went on recruiting visits with him.

Now, Weeks was inviting Lubbock to meals with his family, which included Willie’s wife, Debra, and his daughters, Kawana and Krystal.

“The only thing I knew was God was sending this young man into my life,” Weeks said, “for me to be there for him.”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Lubbock Smith still remembers 10 years ago when Willie Weeks visited him during breakfast.

Yolanda sat her 10-year-old son at the kitchen table with his coach. Lubbock was the man of the house now. This would be his decision.

Weeks made his recruiting pitch. He told Lubbock it was important for him to play football. He told him that he had great talent. He told him that football could help open doors down the road if he kept playing.

Then, he went for the hard-hitting stuff.

Weeks told Lubbock he’d probably be the starter at running back. And that he could be whatever number he wanted.

After thinking about it, Lubbock had made up his mind. He was going to play football again.

But not without one demand.

When Lubbock went to Pop Warner games growing up, he noticed that the best player on each team always seemed to wear the No. 1 jersey.

“It was something I’d always dreamed about having,” Lubbock says.

That season, the No. 1 jersey was all his.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Lubbock Smith was in Lubbock, Texas, when his cell phone started to ring.

KU was playing Texas Tech last year, and Yolanda had told him that a call might be coming.

Lubbock Jr. called his son from Frankston, Texas. His prison sentence was over.

Lubbock Jr. told his son how much he missed him. He told him he’d finally get a chance to relax and watch him play.

“I missed hearing from him,” Lubbock says. “I hadn’t talked to him in a long time. I just had missed hearing his voice.”

When Lubbock goes back to Texas, he visits his biological father. They’ll watch movies, eat, joke and try to catch up on lost time.

Lubbock Jr. even came to Dallas last year. His son knew he couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

Driving his Toyota Camry, Lubbock took his dad through Dallas, finally stopping at a red brick house on Crystal Lake Drive in DeSoto.

This was where Lubbock said the man would be.

Lubbock knocked on the door, seeking out the same man that had searched for him 10 years ago.

When Willie Weeks answered, Lubbock introduced him to Lubbock Jr.; the two men saw each other for the first time since Lubbock’s little league football games more than a decade earlier.

The father and godfather shook hands, and Lubbock says it was like his family was finally united.

“I wanted to let both of them know,” Lubbock says, “that they’d played a major role in my life.”

Comments

grandpa 3 years, 5 months ago

Free Safety is one of the more difficult positions to play. Very few people notice the good defense you do but if you make a mistake, everyone sees it and wants to critize yoou.Lubbock has made some mistakes but he also has made some very good defensive polays. Good Luck to you Luabbock in this win over Iowa State!!

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khummel60 3 years, 5 months ago

Great article! Demonstrates how one man stepping up to help a struggling kid can make all the difference in the world. And it really shows how much character this young man has. I'm proud to have him as a fellow Jayhawk.

I've noticed Lubbock all year long, and how he plays with so much heart. He's constantly making big plays in the open field, and seems to always be around the ball. It's extremely difficult to be a Free Safety on a team where the DB's have to make most of the tackles, but I think Lubbock has done a very good job under the circumstances.

I would also like to say that I'm proud of the way Lubbock and this entire team have handled the season, and all its disappointments. I haven't seen players throw anyone under the bus or point fingers at other players, and they've continued to work hard. For that they all deserve to be commended.

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nschmi04 3 years, 5 months ago

If a black man in Texas only got 10 years, he was probably busted with an eighter of chronic. Fvcking redneck cops and republicans down there aren't worth a sh1t. Don't get me wrong, Kansas is no better. We have people like Tom Shewmon in Kansas.

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s6u6r6f 3 years, 5 months ago

This is Kansas football, which means a tradition of success. We have the highest imaginable standards. Kansas football demands that a coach in his first season reach perfection immediately. Every player must make every play at all times. All decisions must always be correct. It's Kansas football! The best thing we could do as a program is to fire Gill, then hire a new coach with new schemes and players to recruit, and then fire him when he doesn't have instant success. Then hire another new guy and do the same. And on and on. Because we are Kansas football and armchair geniuses who know and post about Kansas football.

Nice article about a nice kid who seems to be progressing well in football and life. Good luck to him. Rock chalk.

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Geekinout 3 years, 5 months ago

Great story! Yes, as a fan I too am guilty of posting negative comments in regards to silly journalism and some of KU football's ridiculous performances, BUT when a story pertains to individual players and the adversity some of these young people have had to endure in life, it does puts things in a larger perspective.

I've watched Lubbock make some big plays this year especially in the Georgia Tech game. He's made a lot of tackles for losses and at times looks like the only one on our defense that flies to the ball and wants to be out there. I for one wouldn't want to see him in another uniform lighting up an offense like KU's come his senior year. He's young and going to be in the wrong position on defense sometimes, but I think he's the type of player on defense we need more of.

Some KU fans need to learn how to comprehend what they read. My only other guess is that they're probably the over-privileged variety who've never experienced anything in life like what this young man has had to go through.

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KU_FanSince75 3 years, 5 months ago

@ Oakville---Beating Denver---that will work for me---thank you very much.

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KU_FanSince75 3 years, 5 months ago

Sorry to hear about your niece, Oakville. Can't wait for the Chiefs/Rams game.

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simon_4th 3 years, 5 months ago

This is a family member that read the article and comments. Blows me away how some of you missed the point of the article and aren't paying much attention the game. The aggies were running at will against us and a natural instinct of a safety is to come down and help. Did he bite, of course and anyone watching the game knows that. He felt worse than any of you typing but piling on is just clueless. And to think, he said he went to this school because the fans really supported the team through thick and thin. Interesting when looking back at that decision. Everybody wants to jump ship and question everything going on when there are losses. Each negative commenter will love everything about Gill when this thing gets turned around. Kills me...

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jayhawkinnebr 3 years, 5 months ago

Your correct, things will get better for Kansas, when Gill is fired.

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Tony Bandle 3 years, 5 months ago

My apologies to you Jesse and all you posters..I totally retract my comments. I got the bad news this am I might lose my 21 year niece to thyroid storm and I took it out on this article.

Lubbock, hang in there. I know what I'm talking about. I am a St.Louis Rams season ticket holder and have paid many thousands of dollars to watch loss after loss, yet now we have a chance to be 4-4 this week.

Things will get better for Kansas!!

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number1jayhawker 3 years, 5 months ago

Good article on Smith.

Could he put on another 10 - 15 lbs of muscle and switch to OLB? I would like to see if that is a possibility. His strength is his tackling and he would only have to cover a RB or TE as apposed to the fast WRs on the other teams.

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babyjay1 3 years, 5 months ago

I am frequently embarrassed by the "fans" who post here... can't even stay away from the negative comments when the story is about the person, not the way the person plays football. I am on the fence about HCTG but I told myself I would give him this year and see if there is improvement next year and that's what I plan to do. Everyone who complains and whines and has nothing but negativity... they must forget that we LOST our last 7 games last year under Mangino... where were his amazing recruits following the Orange Bowl year? Whatever.... If Gill doesn't pan out, I'm sure the next AD will be looking for a new coach but at the very least, give him a chance and see what he does a year into it...

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55jayhawk 3 years, 5 months ago

hawk316 and kureader, I agree with you. We had an article written in the Tyler paper about Lubbock, his father, and Godfather. Folks in TX were amased that Lubbock had turned out so well. I know what his father did and it really doesn't mean a damn what he did at this time. It's like life you get out of it what you put in. If you cheat or do dumb things then you better be prepared to pay the price...his father did and it's over. Lubbock is a good kid and believe it or not, he's fast enough to be playing where he is and on most other schools. He has a job of protecting or containment depending on the defense called. He got burned but some others on the team could have done their job a little better and Lubbock would have looked better. Speed looks to be a problem in some areas plus learning a new system takes time and even though we looked bad against A & M, this team showed guts! I think next year will be better and so will Texas, K State and others. I was at KU last weekend and felt for the team but the fixes will come after the season and next year with a few key players brought on board and our existing players that are good enough, they will do their thing also. As a player, I know what its like and I want to give Gill some time to make it happen.

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Jaminrawk 3 years, 5 months ago

Completely agree with hawk316 and kureader. This story is about where this kid came from not really intended to be a forum for more KU football hate spewed at Turner Gill or the team in general. There are plenty of other articles to poist that stuff on. PLus, having watched many of the games, Lubbock is one of the better players on the defensive side of the ball. Certainly one of the last defenders I would throw under the bus this year.

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kureader 3 years, 5 months ago

Jesse writes a nice article about a great kid who has overcome adversity ... and some of you decide it's a good time to trash the kid? Unfortunately, when Lubbock's friends and family read this article, they'll probably also read your posts. Real nice.

And to others ... did you read the article? It had nothing to do with Gill or Mangino. The LJW could write an article about the KU women's rowing team, and a couple of you would still respond with a negative post about Gill or Mangino.

This is a great kid and a good football player. He didn't need or deserve your criticisms right now. As for Mangino, he has been gone for almost a year ... get over it already. As for Gill, there will be plenty of articles after which we can all vent our frustrations by bagging on him, but this wasn't one of them.

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hawk316 3 years, 5 months ago

Some of you are totally missing the point. This story is much bigger than a switch in numbers on a uniform. It's about a young man who not only survived a difficult blow in his life, but who, by the grace of God and the help of caring people, has thrived.

I'm a fan of Lubbock Smith. He's the kind of young man we want representing the University of Kansas. He's got his head screwed on right and his heart in the right place. I like the way he plays, too. He plays hard. He plays with passion. He has already made an impact on this team as a sophomore and will continue to improve. I wish him only the very best.

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Tony Bandle 3 years, 5 months ago

Sorry.....make that a sarcastic "fine"

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Brian Leiker 3 years, 5 months ago

His biting on the run last week was a bit ridiculous. Not even close on the wide open TD's. If he keeps coming that hard to stop the run then we can expect a couple of TD's over the top of Smith every game from here on out. Here's to hoping he watches some film.

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jayhawkinnebr 3 years, 5 months ago

I don't think making the jersey trade is going to help.I know that Gill has tried everything else but, no improvement.

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jaymar74 3 years, 5 months ago

Good story, nice kid, but a typical Mangino recruit-too slow for BCS competition. We need Gill to upgrade our speed, until then no hope unless we find another Reesing miracle. Gill is not the problem, Mangino's too slow recruits are the issue. Gills reaction on the sideline and in press conference is being confused as being clueless when it actually is extreme patience.

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KU_FanSince75 3 years, 5 months ago

84--- Good question about the dad. I would be interested to know, too!

Great story, Jesse. Sometimes we complain about a lot of things with our lives. And, then, you read a story like this. . . . . it kind of humbles you a little.

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minnhawk84 3 years, 5 months ago

Jesse: Thanks, interesting story. What on earth did his dad do to get 10 years in prison?

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Kevin Kelly 3 years, 5 months ago

Something sarcastic about Turner Gill.

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