Will Smith Remembered as Utica's Superman
by Mark Caswell, Jr.Apr 11, 2016
Sunday morning, citizens of Utica, NY woke up to the heart-wrenching news that their hometown hero, Will Smith, was senselessly taken from them at the young age of 34. Without re-hashing the horrible details of a night that has been already repeated ad nauseam, both locally and nationally, an innocent fender bender in New Orleans, LA, stripped our region of its ‘Superman’.
“It's just a terrible loss for the city of Utica,” said Paul Filletti, in an interview with WKTV. “He was such a bright spot for the city. So many people looked up to him. He had grown from a shy 12-year-old and into our “Superman."
The 34-year old former Thomas R. Proctor High School football star from Cornhill had a resume that included winning a national championship at Ohio State University, being selected in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, and ultimately winning a Super Bowl title with the New Orleans Saints in 2010. His on-the-field accolades, as highly impressive as they are, still do not compare to his accomplishments away from the field of battle.
In 2007, he started the “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way” charitable foundation that made a difference in improving the lives of women and youth in Utica and New Orleans. For the past seven years Smith returned to Utica to host the Evening of All-Stars dinner that honors the 2015 All-Mohawk Valley Football Team.
“He was a source of motivation for me,” Lawrence Elliott, Jr., a local standout runningback, told the Utica Observer-Dispatch. “He gave players who had a dream of playing after high school the hope. He showed that it was possible, that someone could come from this area and be successful. He made it, but he also came back and told other players from this area to follow their dreams.”
This year’s trip home for the annual Evening of All-Stars dinner was scheduled for Thursday. On Friday, he was slated to drop the ceremonial first puck at the Comets game. His trip home was supposed to culminate with a special Super Bowl “Golden Football” dedication ceremony at his high school alma mater, Proctor High School.
Will’s impact extended far past the Mohawk Valley. A member of the Saints during the Katrina-ravaged season of 2005, Smith was a captain on the 2010 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Smith, along with future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, spearheaded a team that picked an entire city up off of the mat from the devastating impact left by Hurricane Katrina, and provided New Orleans with the biggest emotional high it had ever witnessed.
Smith’s charity efforts continued in New Orleans almost as soon as he arrived there. During his rookie season he fell in love with his new city and immediately began working with several organizations helping troubled youth. Even after retiring, Smith was active in the New Orleans community. He participated in several support groups for families, and hosted annual Christmas dinners for those families at the Saints’ practice facility.
"We are still reeling from the loss of Will Smith, who was a great role model to many in our community," said Comets President Robert Esche. "It was the utmost honor to have known him, and the mark he left on both Utica and the nation will be felt for years to come."
The Comets will honor Smith’s legacy prior to Friday’s game against the Syracuse Crunch. While we mourn Will, our thoughts and prayers are with those lucky enough to have known one of the greatest men to make his way through Utica, NY. His mark on the citizens here, and those in New Orleans will not be forgotten any time soon, and we hope to progress forward his goal of making the community a better place.