By Charles grove
One of the top professional football players to come out of the Youngstown area passed away recently when former Ursuline star Darrell K. Smith died at 55 on Feb. 13 after a battle with cancer.
Smith played eight seasons in the Canadian Football League, mainly for the Toronto Argonauts. In 1990 he had 20 touchdown catches, a record at the time. That mark is still tied for fourth all time in CFL history in most touchdowns of any kind in one season.
It’s a long way from what former Ursuline head football coach Dick Angle saw his first year with the Irish in 1979 — Smith’s senior year.
“Darrell was an above-average player, but he wasn’t matured enough,” Angle said. “It was a bit of a drawback. He was a little bit taken back by our new philosophy to practice. It was different than what he was used to so, there was resistance at first.”
But Angle and his staff worked with Smith on and off the field to make sure he had a shot in college.
“We worked to get his grades up and get him into school,” Angle said. “Once he saw an opportunity for himself he didn’t bat an eye. He went and took advantage.”
That goal was achieved when Smith got his shot at Central State, an historically black university east of Dayton.
Smith flourished playing wide receiver for the Marauders. His senior year Smith hauled in 51 passes for 947 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was a major part of Central State’s 12-1 season, when the Marauders were NCAA Division II national runners-up after falling to North Dakota State in the final game.
Smith had stints after college with the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals but found his foothold up north after signing with Toronto. After his rookie season, Smith was named an Eastern All-Star for the next five seasons.
During that stint, the Argonauts picked up quarterback Rickey Foggie off waivers and according to him, Smith was the most professional and mature player he ever shared the field with.
“Darrell right off the bat took me under his wing. For a guy who played slot he was built like a rock from head to toe,” Foggie said. “He was so strong and physical.
“But his best asset was his attitude. We’re football players. We come to work in shorts. But he came into work dressed in slacks, a dress shirt and shoes. I played 10 years in the CFL and eight years in the [Arena Football League] and I never saw a guy come in and dress more professionally.”
But it wasn’t the record season of 1990 for which Foggie will remember Smith. It was a moment when he didn’t make the catch.
“I’ll never forget DK had a record in the league of consecutive games with a catch. We were playing in a game we were going to lose and Darrell had no catches in the fourth. I saw him open and instead of catching a meaningless pass in a loss he just knocked it down and took off his helmet and went to the locker room.
“That’s how much pride he had in himself. He wasn’t going to take a cheap catch just to keep his steak alive because we were losing.”
Foggie said he lost contact with Smith for a bit after their professional careers ended, but was happy he got to speak to his friend for the last couple of months of his life before he lost his fight against cancer.
“Bonds like that you don’t get a lot of in life,” Foggie said. “I love that I can still go back on YouTube and watch our games in our primes. It was a pleasure to play with him.”