No. 1 ranking hasn't changed St. Thomas' George Smith

Let's take a walk through George Smith's neighborhood. Here's his desk with the nameplate that reads, "They say Lombardi was tough"— though, he says, many of his players don't know who

Vince Lombardi


Here's a reception area with a window-wall view to the St. Thomas Aquinas High football field. It's part of the year-old athletic center that makes some colleges envious.


Here's the ...

"Hey!" he says to a student, who instantly stops. "What's going on in Spanish class? You need to go to Room 325. You need to get it straightened out right now."

Here's the training room with a hot-or-cold whirlpool that …

"Hey," he says, and another kid stops. "How's math going? You come and see me tomorrow morning after homeroom."


Here's a crowded hallway of …

"You going to class or hanging out by the girls' locker room?" he says to one kid.

… students between classes …

"You've been working hard, I know," he says to a girl.


… that Smith walks through …

"You get your shoes straightened out?" he says to another boy.

… just before this afternoon's practice. It will be one of the final practices before his top-ranked St. Thomas team plays on


Saturday in Ohio against Columbus Upper Arlington.

You can see Smith's handiwork across the country then. Or you can just walk these school halls alongside him in the same manner he's walked them for more than three decades.

Watch the kids he stops. Listen to the way he talks. Then go look, over here, in this corner. This is telling. This is where the St. Thomas athletes are pictured and cataloged behind plexiglass, year by year, so you can flip through them.

Go to a year: 1984. Point to a name: Mike Delvisco.

"He's an engineer," Smith says.

Keith Evans.

"He's an



Flip to another year: 1980. Point to another name: Cameron Benson.

"Cameron's the city manager in Hollywood," Smith says.

You see how tomorrow is prepared here? Understand the good work being done, as it is inside our best high schools? And these photos don't tell the full story.

Take Benson. Just today, Smith received a letter from

Minnesota Vikings

coach Brad Childress. They met nearly 30 years ago when Childress recruited Benson to Illinois. They've kept in touch ever since.

Expand that name and that recruiter across all these years. Now you're getting the picture of what impact a good coach can have.

"Sports aren't for everyone," he says. "Neither is calculus. We have a great band here. That's for some kids. We have great teachers in history and math. Some kids like sports and that's where I try to help."

It might seem a strange union: high school, national TV and an old-school coach like Smith, whose heroes are older-school coaches like

Bear Bryant

, Woody Hayes and

Don Shula

. But look beyond the coach.

"When [Miami] Northwestern has great teams, that's good for everyone in this area," he said. "When a recruiter comes to watch a Deerfield Beach player, that's good for all the kids in South Florida. That recruiter is going to see others play."

So around 1990, when high-school teams began to be ranked nationally, no South Florida team listed. It's not good for the kids to go unnoticed this way, Smith thought. So he built a program and a platform and here it is, all these years later, his team's flying to Ohio, again ranked No. 1 in the country.

Today, Smith is passing out a "What To Take" sheet of paper to his players for the trip. It lists everything. Toothbrush. Two towels. Helmet. Mouthpiece. Beside the listing of "shoulder pads" is the word "Mitch" in parentheses.

"Mitch forgot his shoulder pads on last year's trip," Smith said.

Yep, they're kids. Our kids. And to lead them, it's always nice when there's a guy who's prowled these same sidelines and walked these same halls so …

"Hey," he says, and another student stops. "I need to know how your classes are going, because …"

More on George Smith


born in

Lafayette, Ind.


graduates from Central Catholic High


graduates from

Purdue University


marries Carole Blakesley in January


daughter Mandy born



named St. Thomas Aquinas football coach

Career record:

333-65 (32 seasons at Aquinas)

State championships:


State championship appearances

: 13

Game coverage

For commentary during the St. Thomas game, visit Christy Cabrera Chirinos' blog at cabrera