Critics love Youngstown.
They attack our business, our politicians and our people. They say we have no future and no growth and the past is haunted by the steel mill collapse.
We may have instability, but you can find fault in every city.
When I hear complaints, I shrug them off and carry on. And then I find pride elsewhere.
Critics may love to hate Youngstown, but they can't take away the true fabric of this city -- its football.
Marvelous in Missouri
Just last weekend, an 18-year-old Youngstown native made us believe. Chaney High graduate Brad Smith became the first freshman quarterback at the University of Missouri to start the season opener.
But he did much more than that.
Smith passed for 152 yards, ran for 138 more, to lead Missouri to a 33-20 victory over Illinois, the defending Big Ten champion. For his inspirational effort, Smith was named the Big 12 offensive co-player of the week.
Not only did Smith impress -- the national television audience watched and listened as announcers raved about this young man from Youngstown, Ohio -- but he showed that our success is possible.
You would be hard-pressed to find someone in this community who would say something negative about Smith. Simply put, he's one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, and he has served as a role model for younger players.
Chaney senior defensive end Keilen Dykes falls in that category. Dykes calls Smith his role model and may reunite with him on the Missouri football team next fall.
"If everybody was like Brad Smith, we'd already be in heaven," Dykes told us.
"You talk about a perfect guy," Dykes added. "For all the accolades he gets, he's still the coolest guy you'll ever meet."
When critics attack, I close my eyes and watch Youngstown native and Warren Harding High graduate Maurice Clarett run -- through defenders and around them, all the way to the end zone.
Two weeks ago, we watched him do that three times while rushing for 175 yards in Ohio State's 45-21 victory over Texas Tech.
Clarett was the best running back in Ohio, arguably in the nation, during his senior year at Harding. Critics wondered whether he could do the same with the Buckeyes.
If the first game was any indication, we already know the answer. Expect another big game Saturday from Clarett, a true freshman, who could make the Kent State defense look silly.
Leading the way
Smith and Clarett are two of Youngstown's young talents. Two other players, veterans Anthony Floyd and Mike Echols, quickly come to mind as strong representatives of this city.
Another Chaney High graduate, Floyd is entering his senior season at the University of Louisville and has become one of the nation's top defensive backs.
Lindy's Pro Football Annual lists Floyd as the fifth-best safety in the country and describes him as a "ball hawk" and "intimidator" who plays "at max speed every series."
Expect Floyd's name to be called in the 2003 NFL draft.
Echols, an Ursuline High graduate, was selected in the fourth round of this year's draft by the Tennessee Titans.
The cornerback from the University of Wisconsin is out to prove that 5-foot-10 players can defend the NFL's best receivers.
This isn't to diminish the other players who have come through this city and made it big in football.
But the recent effort of Smith, Clarett, Floyd and Echols has proven that, even when things appear stagnant and criticism abounds, there are sources of hope.
They are right in front of us, living proof that you can be from Youngstown and succeed. You can live in Youngstown and be proud.
XBrian Richesson is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.