Stratford legend Le Kevin Smith shares Super Bowl memories

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Le Kevin holds Jett Johnston during the Stratford Sports Hall of Fame ceremony in 2009. Jett is now a second-grader at Stratford.

David Matlock and Nick Dorogy

The Super Bowl is almost upon us, and our hometown Atlanta Falcons have punched their ticket to meet the New England Patriots on Sunday in the most coveted game of the season.

The Gazebo sports staff caught up with Stratford legend, Le Kevin Smith, a former NFL lineman and Super Bowl XLII participant.

Smith is one of 21 former Eagle athletes, and one of four football players, to have had their jersey’s retired in the Stratford Hall of Fame.

He played for the Patriots during their 16-0 regular season in 2007, had a fumble recovery and half a quarterback sack in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants. The Patriots finished 19-1, losing to the New York Giants.

Smith began his football journey at Stratford, playing under Coach Rodney Collins, where he led the Eagles to a GISA state championship his sophomore and junior seasons. He graduated in 2001.

Smith was recognized by college coaches all over the country for his strength and extraordinary athletic ability. At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, he could do a standing backflip.

The Stratford community served a large role in Smith’s life both on and off the field. Smith considers Coach Collins, Coach David Bailey, and Coach Mark Farriba as important mentors in his life because of their influence on him as a player and a man.  

“Coach Bailey and Coach Collins were in the same office so that was in my hangout place,’’ he said. “So I would just go and sit in their office and talk to those guys during breaks and before practices started. I talked with Coach Bailey a lot. I got to know him his wife his son… big influence even in the weight room because he used to be in the weight room with [Coach] Mays and Coach Farriba at the time so, I mean, I spent a lot of time with those guys. I probably spent more time with them than I did at home with my family.”

A nose guard with his athletic ability, Smith was destined to attract the attention of some the nation’s top football programs. However, Smith’s decision was focused on the best academic program since he had always wanted major in engineering or architecture.

“I wanted to be in some sort of engineering or architectural program so I started looking at schools that had an engineering or architecture program and had that football [program] that I wanted and that’s just how it lined up. That’s the first thing most people say, Georgia Tech. I actually was strong on Tech because of the academics of going to Georgia Tech.”

Nebraska was not the top college on his list because of the distance involved and the unfamiliar football program. Georgia Tech was the frontrunner for Smith’s football talents because of its engineering program and reputable football team.

While Georgia Tech and Florida State were contenders for his top two colleges, a close friend and graduate of Nebraska, encouraged him to take a closer look at the Cornhuskers’ program. Although Smith considered Nebraska, he was fixed on staying in the South for football because he wanted to be closer to home and play under the reputation of SEC or ACC football.

“Well, Nebraska had John Jones to thank for me going there because he was a die-hard Nebraska fan,” said Smith. “Every day I said I wasn’t going to go there. I was going to stay in the South. He repeatedly said ‘you gotta look at Nebraska, you gotta look at Nebraska’ so once I finally did start looking at schools that I actually wanted to play for, I actually took football out of it.”

Smith’s entire college decision took a complete turn when Georgia Tech’s coaching staff moved to Maryland during his would-be freshman season. At the last minute, he also found out that FSU did not have an engineering program and “X-ed” off the school. Suddenly, Nebraska entered the spotlight as his top choice.

Smith also discussed the dedication and focus that goes into preparing for a Super Bowl game. The Super Bowl is the largest stage for professional sports, and, according to Smith it was a meticulous process to prepare for the game.

Obviously, the necessary preparation for a game at the pinnacle of its sport is going to be extreme, but Smith and the Patriots took it to the next level.

“So, when you’re leading up to it, you’re not trying to look at the Super Bowl game before you actually win your championship — AFC or NFC championship. I got to go to two or three AFC Championships while I was there, and I remember each time we are focusing on this game. You’re not trying to talk about the Super Bowl. You’re not looking at who could potentially be in the Super Bowl. You’re just trying to get your job done. First, you gotta win your championship game.  Now once you win the championship game, there was kind of like “take a breath”, but we’re starting work immediately.”

The Patriots organization became home for Smith, and the impact that his teammates and coaching staff left was astronomical. Smith had the opportunity to play under one of the most decorated coaches in football history in Bill Belichick, and the former Stratford standout cherished every second.

“When I first got to [New England], there was a presence about New England that you know you were supposed to conduct yourself in a certain manner, not only as a Patriot, but as a NFL player. That was something I think I needed at that point in my career. The tutelage and the mentorship Bill Belichick isn’t something that most NFL players get with their coaching staff that they have. It also helped to be on one of the most successful teams in NFL history with more pro bowlers than you could ever imagine.”

While Smith is a Georgia native, his admiration and support still follows the New England Patriots.

“I was a dirty bird. Well, I still gotta pull for the Pats. I’m a Pat,” he said, “So I’m going to sit down and watch it and hope that it’s an amazing game. Since I have been retired, I haven’t watched a whole lot of football, but, when I do, I just want to see a good game.”