Odessa, Texas’ Permian High School is legendary in West Texas football. Football, for young men there, isn’t just something to do, it is the thing they spend their early years of life preparing for. Tate Smith became the quarterback of the Permian Panthers football team. He was recruited out of high school to play for Darrell Dickey at North Texas. But, as so often is the case, there came a coaching change, as Dickey was fired.
“When he was fired, I was kind of left high and dry”, said Smith.
So, he enrolled at Cisco College. His stay at Cisco was a short one. He called Rocky Long, the head coach at UNM and asked if he could walk on to their program. Long promised only that he would be given a chance. The next season, when the Lobo’s starting quarterback was injured, Smith got his chance. He played against some of the top ranked teams in the country, including the 6th ranked Utes of Utah, and the 8th ranked BYU Cougars.
“You know, 80 thousand in front of BYU, that’s pretty exciting”, he said, with a big smile.
Then, another one of those coaching changes came. Rocky Long stepped down from the UNM head coaching job. Mike Locksley came in, and Smith’s time at UNM began to sour. Locksley promised a scholarship, but it never came.
Back home, Smith’s mother was battling breast cancer and the Smith’s needed the help that the scholarship would provide. Smith realized that the scholarship wasn’t going to be given to him. With all of those years of doing what is right for the team that had been instilled in him, he decided to leave the team. Even though he was the starter, he decided that it was best for him to leave rather than allow his situation with Locksley to cause a problem for the team.
Smith resigned himself to giving up his college football career. He had already worked it out that he would become the quarterbacks coach back at his high school.
Smith called his old teammate from Permian, receiver Lavorick Williams. Williams had transferred from New Mexico State last year and was now at UTEP. Williams told UTEP’s quarterback coach, Aaron Price that he had a friend who would be interested in walking onto the UTEP team.
“But, now I have a chance to play the great game.”
Asked if he was looking forward to the upcoming UTEP/UNM game a broad grin spread across his face.
“I definitely am…I definitely would like to go down there and beat those guys.”
His mother’s cancer is in remission and it was her fighting spirit that inspired him to come back and fight to play the game he loves so much.
Watch the entire interview;