Notre Dame transfer WR Cameron Smith snubs spotlight, sets positive example

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

There are no less than 68 Cameron Smiths on Twitter.

One Cameron Smith is a famous rugby player that boasts more than 91,000 followers. Another Cameron Smith claims to be a golfer on the PGA Tour. There’s a “Cam Smith” that is set to enter his junior season as an inside linebacker at USC. There’s even a “Fake Cameron Smith,” though it’s unclear who exactly this proud impostor is attempting to imitate.

The Cameron Smith Notre Dame fans should care about, however, is nowhere to be found.

That’s not by accident, either. This Cameron Smith — a 6-foot, 203-pound enigmatic blur — embraces spotlights with the enthusiasm of a vegetarian at a hot dog eating contest. The graduate transfer wide receiver boasts no Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Snapchat.

When you have 4.4 speed, who needs social media?

“He’s an old soul. He’s a 50’s kid,” said Joe McBride, Smith’s former head coach at Coppell High School in Coppell, Texas. “He hardly ever talks to the press. He doesn’t like it. I could barely get him to go through the recruiting process, he’s so quiet.

“It ain’t about him. He’s just very, very humble. He has confidence in himself, but he doesn’t need attention. He doesn’t want it.”

Like it or not, the attention has occasionally found Notre Dame’s newest graduate transfer wide receiver, who joins the Irish from Arizona State. That’s what happens when you catch 59 passes for 1,071 yards and 15 touchdowns in your senior season at Coppell, becoming, to quote McBride, “totally uncoverable.” It’s what happens when you break out for 41 catches, 596 receiving yards and six scores in your sophomore season at ASU in 2014.

It’s what happens when you run like Smith can run — away from media, away from Twitter, away from the helpless defenders steadily shrinking in the rear view mirror.

“He has just incredible burst,” McBride said. “He can get in and out of cuts like no one I’ve been around. Then he’s got the blazing speed to get on top and beat you vertically. Just really, really athletic. Probably the best route runner I ever coached.”

Why, then, has Smith not been more of a consistent factor? The graduate student speedster missed the entire 2015 season while recovering from knee surgery and has been otherwise limited with a litany of lingering injuries. His greatest obstacle has been himself.

And his greatest asset … has been himself.

“The injuries have not affected him one bit,” said Courtney Skipper, the director of student-athlete development and director of football academics at Arizona State. “I’ve been here 10 years now, and I’ve seen injuries sink someone into pure depression, and everything else in their life will fall apart — whether it be their relationships with friends, girlfriends, parents, staff members, or a drop off in school work.

“This kid just kept on plugging. He still showed up every day. He’s different, and I really can’t put it into words. You can’t knock him off his mission.”

Smith’s mission, as Skipper says, extends beyond the sidelines. At Arizona State, he earned a degree in biological sciences with a concentration in genetics and developmental biology. He was one of roughly 80 students at the university to participate in the 4+1 accelerated program, which allows an advanced student to begin working towards their master’s degree before technically earning an undergraduate diploma.

Eventually, Smith intends to pursue a career in scientific research.

Until then, he researches himself — his body, his diet and the weaknesses in his game.

“In his spare time, his ‘hobby’ was weightlifting,” Skipper said. “He was learning so much about the body that he could do certain exercises to maximize his physical output. In a football sense, he applied what he was learning in the classroom into the weight room.

“After everyone did their lifting and workouts, this dude would come back later in the day and do a separate workout. His work ethic is unmatched.”

Smith set a silent, sweat-soaked example, and Arizona State’s coaching staff — including current Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long and wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander — noticed. That’s one reason they jumped at the opportunity to add their former pupil to an Irish receiving corps that’s void of senior leadership, outside of Michigan graduate transfer Freddy Canteen.

Take away Twitter, Instagram, emojis, subtweets, memes, Snapchat stories, friend requests and trending topics, and the truth is exceedingly clear:

This Cameron Smith is not like the others.

“Obviously he’s very gifted athletically as a receiver with his speed,” Long said. “But I think (what separates him) is just his presence, his maturity, the way he goes about his business, the way he goes about his day. He’s a great example not just for our young receivers but for our younger players as a whole, offense and defense.

“He’s very no-nonsense. You can’t have enough guys like that that can set the example. ‘Hey, you want to be successful? This is how you have to do it.’ You have to sacrifice. You don’t just bee bop along, show up at the stadium, show up at the (practice facility) and that’s when you start thinking about football. It’s got to constantly be on your mind. You constantly have to stay ahead of the curve — get up in the morning, get up for rehab — if you want to be great. If you don’t, then that’s another discussion.

“He’s a great example of what it takes to put yourself in position to be successful.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Arizona State’s Cameron Smith, left, makes a catch over Notre Dame’s Devin Butler during the Notre Dame-Arizona State NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, inside Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN