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Thomas Smith: Football experience complemented by time in ROTC

Kelsey Manning | Thursday, November 11, 2010

As a business marketing major, a Naval officer in training and a safety on the Irish defense, the life of senior Tommy Smith is a balancing act. Smith does not view his busy schedule as a burden, however, but rather as the fulfillment of several lifetime goals.

A Connecticut native and a third generation Domer, Smith dreamed about going to Notre Dame since his youth. And with a mom that swam at Notre Dame and a grandfather who walked onto the football team, Irish athletics are in his blood. Smith’s first love is hockey, and several Division III schools in the New England area recruited him for both sports. But once he got into Notre Dame, there was no looking back.

“The first time I was ever at the Stadium I was four years old. … There is a picture of me and my sister in the old stadium before they redid it,” Smith said. “I remember my first game here when I was in fifth grade we beat Arizona State, and even since before then I’ve always wanted to come here. And I always knew if I got in and came here I would want to try to play football, and just check my goals off one by one if I could.”

That he did. As a freshman Smith started out on the Stanford interhall football, which went undefeated and won the championship game in the Stadium. From there he walked onto the Notre Dame football team the spring of his sophomore year, fulfilling a lifelong dream of being a part of the Irish.

“Football has been great,” Smith said. “Ever since I thought about the idea to walk on, I thought about how much of an honor it would be to be part of the tradition, to line up against these guys in practice every day, see how hard they work and see if I could pick up on their work ethic. It’s really helped me, not only in terms of work ethic, but I’ve gotten in much better shape physically, and it has made me a mentally stronger person.”

Along with the tremendous commitment Smith has made to football, Navy ROTC takes up a great deal of his time. Smith started seriously considering the Navy during his junior year of high school.

“I looked at Annapolis and I really liked it, but I ultimately decided Notre Dame was where I wanted to be,” Smith said. “I figured I could get the best of both worlds being able to go to Notre Dame and be a part of the Navy, so I was able to get what I wanted in both areas.”

Football and ROTC have all but dominated Smith’s time at Notre Dame, yet he has managed to strike a comfortable balance between the two.

“It’s definitely not easy to balance the two, but I really appreciate everything that Navy ROTC has done for me to play football and vice versa,” Smith said. “I have to do a lot of the legwork but together we get things done. I have to miss a lot of things for ROTC and I really appreciate them letting me do that, especially since they’re paying for my scholarship. … I wouldn’t be where I am right now without either one of them.”

Smith said he has no regrets about taking on so much during his time here, especially since he is entering the Navy after graduation. Smith was recently selected to one of the Navy’s more elite programs, Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD), and will be training for that.

“As long as I can continue along this training pipeline, and successfully make it through the next two years of training and school, then I would like to stay in the Navy for longer than the initial four-year commitment, possibly 10 to 15 years,” Smith said.

Even if Smith does successfully complete EOD training, studying business law at Notre Dame has also made him consider the possibility of attending law school after his time in the Navy. Another option is a post-military career in the United States Secret Service. Whatever Smith decides, he is grateful for his entire Notre Dame experience.

“Everything has been worth it,” he said. “I don’t get a lot of sleep some nights but I’m ready to go the next morning. I have no regrets at all because both [ROTC and football] have been great for me.”