Anyone who knows Three Rivers senior Connor Smith always knew he was going places. The first stop is Ithaca, N.Y.
Smith, who was named an Associated Press Division 3-4 All-State honorable mention recently, verbally committed to play football at Cornell University Monday.
With offers from a number of area Division II programs, Smith, a 275-pound offensive tackle, was presented an academic scholarship that will cover roughly half of his tuition at the Ivy League institution, which does not give out athletic scholarships.
He received the news following an official visit over the weekend.
“My phone said ‘New York.’ It kind of made me nervous because I knew it was either going to be, ‘Hey, we want you’ or ‘We don’t,’” Smith said of the incoming call on his drive to basketball practice.
It was Cornell head coach David Archer, and he wanted Smith, who had toiled from an early age to position himself academically for such an opportunity.
“I think I’m the second person from Three Rivers to go to an Ivy League school,” the 6-foot-5 Smith said. It’s a pretty big deal.”
Smith’s three-day visit consisted of a campus tour and introductions from everyone from the team nutritionist to many of the current Big Red players. By the time Sunday morning’s recruit breakfast rolled around, Smith and his family had made up their minds. All that was left was for Archer to extend his hand.
Archer, a Cornell alumnus and former team captain, was able to explain in great detail what it’s like to study at and play for the school. The Big Red struggled last season to a 3-7 record, but optimism is overflowing in Ithaca that the storied program that boasts five national championships can return to greatness.
With businesslike young men like Smith on board, there’s no reason to think otherwise.
Smith estimates he has taken the ACT eight or nine times, getting “stuck” on a score of 27 five times. His grade-point average is 3.97 and Smith is among the top 15 students in the class of 2014.
Though he could have had his entire college tab eliminated elsewhere, choosing Cornell instead was a no-brainer for the studious big man.
“It just came down to what will be the best for me after college and for the goals I have in my life,” Smith said. “There’s not a much better place than Cornell to do that.”
Three Rivers football coach J.J. Wagner said it was clear from the outset that Smith put a premium on things other than just football.
“He’s a kid who really values an education,” Wagner said. “It was either West Point or Ivy League. He’s a good football player, but this opportunity comes from what he has done in the classroom. He had offers from Division II schools. He was kind of holding off on that hoping this would come along.”
Smith is pegged to play either tackle or guard at the next level, and Wagner said the senior made strides this past fall for Three Rivers, which finished with a 5-4 record.
“Once he gets into a full-time weight program in college, they’re going to bulk him up even more,” Wagner explained. “What he does well for being so big is he bends well and he moves his feet well.”
And he has proved he has a pretty good head on his shoulders as well.
“They’re really excited,” Smith said of his family’s reaction to the news. “We’re all still kind of in awe. I guess we don’t necessarily know yet how big of a decision this is for the next four years and for the next forty years after that.”