BOCA RATON - Jarrid Smith left the Brighton
Seminole Indian Reservation to get an education and play football at
But even as he packed up his things, he knew he would return home.
"It is where my heart is. It is where I am most comfortable. It is where my family and friends are," said Smith, a senior offensive lineman and four-year starter.
But Smith will go back with a purpose.
He wants to become a leader in the Seminole Tribe of Florida, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Fred Smith, who was the longest-serving president of the tribe's corporate board before passing away in 1996.
Fred Smith fought hard for the tribe, which is now benefiting from the flow of money created by Hard Rock casinos near Hollywood and Tampa and smaller casinos such as the one on the Brighton reservation.
But Jarrid Smith, who grew up on the reservation near Hollywood before moving to Brighton, located in Glades County, has watched as the money has caused some in his generation to drift away from the traditional customs and lose focus in their lives.
"I have a picture of my kindergarten class. There are 12 or 13 of us," he said. "Four are now dead or in jail, and some others should be in rehab. My best friend when I was growing up in Hollywood is in jail now and will be there a while longer."
The problem is that some of the young people have known life only with the casinos and the money they have generated.
Smith can remember being grateful for the free government surplus milk, cheese and butter the tribe received. The rare dinners out at a restaurant, the beat-up cars his mother drove around in.
"Just being able to remember that makes me grateful for what we have now," he said. "It's just disappointing others don't have an appreciation of the money they are getting, they just take it for granted."
Smith said the tribe needs a different kind of help now, and he wants to have the same kind of positive influence his grandfather had.
This comes from a 22-year-old who was so quiet when he was being recruited, then-assistant FAU coach John Vandevere was concerned.
"He was just the quietest person and seemed so shy, and I had to ask myself, 'Can he fit in here?'" Vandevere said.
Smith had no trouble settling into life off the Brighton reservation, which has a population of around 300, to life at FAU and its 26,000 students.
"Oh, once he knows you and is comfortable, he can be crazy," said FAU running back B.J. Manley, who has roomed with Smith since they arrived on campus in 2003.
Manley has visited the Brighton reservation with Smith and said he understands why Smith is heading back there.
"The reservation is making plans for him, also," Manley said. "He does things for kids, all kinds of programs, so they are expecting him to be a leader, and I don't doubt that's exactly what he is going to be."
"It's almost like it's been expected, a known thing." said Camellia Smith, Jarrid's mother.
Camellia Smith has been to nearly every game Smith has played in high school and college.
Camellia said Jarrid is a great source of pride for her and the tribe, but she claims she had little to do with what her son has become.
"I tell everyone all I did was feed him and give him a place to stay," she said.
Jarrid credits his mother with much more.
"It was just a given that I was going to college," he said. "I am thankful to her for pushing me. Some people don't have parents who would do that."
Jarrid Smith is now pushing himself. He graduated last year with a degree in political science and could have started his career on the reservation rather than returning to FAU.
But he decided to get a second degree in communication and will become the first football player to accomplish that.
His return also gave the offensive line its most experienced starter and only senior, and Smith won the offensive game ball for his performance in the season-opening win over Middle Tennessee.
"He has been a terrific role model. He has distinguished himself," said FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger.
Ted Hutton can be reached at email@example.com.