Not long after Will Smith ’14 visited campus as a prospective student, he knew he belonged.
William & Mary was already on his short list partly due to word-of-mouth from an older brother, Chris, who graduated in 2007. But seeing the academic powerhouse with a great soccer team up close inked the deal.
“It seemed like a perfect place for me, and it has been,” said Smith, captain of the Tribe men’s soccer team and the embodiment of a successful student-athlete.
The center-backer from Avon, Conn., was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s 2013 defensive player of the year. Will was instrumental in the team qualifying in the fall for its first NCAA tournament invitation since 2010.
Will also was named to the CAA’s All-Academic squad and, for the past three years, he earned the College’s Provost Award, an honor reserved for student-athletes achieving a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 or above.
Annual gifts to the Tribe Club make a difference for student-athletes like Will, who attend William & Mary for the excellence and opportunities that exist both inside and outside of the classroom.
“Had I not had an athletic scholarship, it would have been difficult. The athletic scholarship has done so much for me in terms of being able to focus on my studies and athletics. Without it, it would have been a lot harder trying to figure out sources of money and all that,” he said.
Will is quick to credit others for his success, including his advisers, assistant professor Philip Roessler in the Government Department, and Chris Howard, William & Mary’s Harriman Professor of Government and Public Policy; and Jason Simms, assistant athletic director for academic services. He said Howard helped him excel on and off the field, while Roessler has been instrumental in encouraging him to pursue his passion for African development. Will also called Simms “an amazing resource” for student-athletes seeking advice on classes, professors and how to develop a manageable academic schedule.
“Those kind of influences put you on the right path right from the start,” Will said.
Captain of his soccer teams while growing up, Will did not play at William & Mary until his fourth game. That’s when head coach Chris Norris’ words empowered him.
“He said, ‘I want you to do what you normally do to be a leader. Don’t worry about the fact that you are a freshman.’ That just gave me so much confidence,” Will said. “And from then on, I was able to get better and better.
“Off the field, William & Mary demands a lot academically, and to balance those two things and to do them well, you really have to work. Being organized and keeping control of my time has helped so much in terms of my leadership abilities.”
Will, a government major, displayed his time-management skills last summer in Monrovia, Liberia, where, thanks to the support of a private donor, he had the opportunity to conduct research for his honors thesis on the impact of hand-held solar lights on the productivity and welfare of fishermen.
Doors to other tremendous opportunities also opened for Will in Liberia. He interned at the U.S. Embassy there and honed his soccer skills at local games, where he met a former player on the Liberian National team. The player introduced Will to George Weah, a noted Liberian soccer player-turned-politician who was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995. Weah invited Will to play in a Peace and Reconciliation match with all of Africa’s biggest “football” legends. Will played with Weah and the footballers before 35,000 spectators in Samuel K. Doe Stadium.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said.
He plans to return to Liberia later this year.
“I graduate in May, and my plan is to get a master’s in African Studies at Oxford and start my own nonprofit organization that seeks to empower local small businesses and expand middle class culture in Liberia.”