SALT LAKE CITY — Antoine Smithson is leaving more than a snazzy nickname with the University of Utah. "Shaky" is leaving a legacy on and off the football field.
Smithson, a senior, enters his final game with the Utes — the Dec. 22 MAACO Bowl Las Vegas against Boise State — with recognition on six All-America teams.
The national leader in punt return average (19.72), punt return yards (572) and 100-yard punt return games (4) was recently named to the prestigious Walter Camp All-American first team. Smithson joins Jordan Gross (2002) and Louie Sakoda (2008) as the only Utes ever to receive such accolades. He'll join other 2010 first-teamers at a national awards banquet Jan. 15 in New Haven, Conn.
The three-time Mountain West Conference Player of the Week, who became the league's first player to net 500 yards in punt returns in a single season, was also named an All-American by Scout/Fox Sports.com (first team), CBSSports.com (second team), Phil Steele (second team), Rivals.com (third team) and SI.com (honorable mention).
"It's just an honor and a blessing to get awards like that," Smithson said.
Football, though, is only part of his story.
Smithson is the legal guardian of his younger brother, Anthony. "Fish" is a high school junior who quarterbacked Highland to the 4A state championship last month.
Shaky brought him to Utah last year to get him away from tough conditions in their hometown of Baltimore
"As good of a football player he is, he's a better person," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "And that's what really sets him apart."
Shaky has a great attitude, he added, and is a great time manager.
"The undertaking of being the guardian for his brother and the responsibility that comes with that is huge," Whittingham said. "Add that to the demands of a Division I student-athlete and there's not a lot of guys that could have done that."
Smithson has no regrets about how things have worked out. He's glad he chose to attend Utah after two years at East Los Angeles Community College.
"It was an excellent decision, a great decision. I wouldn't change it for anything," Smithson said. "If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it the same way. I feel great about it."
Good feelings are a by-product of Shaky's personality. He's a fan favorite with thousands of followers on Facebook. Returning two punts for touchdowns this season gave folks even more to cheer about.
"He is a very dynamic player and can do a lot of things," Whittingham said. "Obviously, he excelled in the return game this year and made a lot of big plays for us over the course of the last two seasons."
The highlights have been plentiful. The guy in jersey No. 1 has made his mark. So, too, have those who have cheered him on.
"I will never, ever forget the fans and the memories that I have here," Smithson said. "Any chance I get I'll always come back and try to work with kids in each and every way I can."
That's why he's majoring is sociology. Shaky wants to help kids who have been through circumstances similar to his.
Smithson is hopeful his journey leads to a career in the National Football League.
"Of course. I've put a lot into this game," he said. "So I want it to pay off just by getting a chance to play in the NFL."
Whittingham thinks it will happen.
"I think he's got a great chance in the NFL. You bet," said the coach. "There's a lot of scouts that come through here who are very intrigued with him."
Question is, at what position? Return specialist, receiver and/or running back?
"That's a good question. That's what they ask and, like I've said, he's a jack-of-all-trades," Whittingham said. "But where's he going to fit at the next level, that's for those guys to decide."
What Whittingham does know, however, is that when Shaky "touches the ball, something exciting is going to happen."
Smithson is eager to go wherever the opportunity arises.
"Each and every team is on my mind, and I can't wait to be anywhere," he said. "Any team that calls me, I'm there. It doesn't matter."
And it's not about the money, at least for himself.
"Most of that is going to be given back. I was a big Michael Jackson fan. I loved everything he did with his money," Smithson said. "I'm going to try to follow in his footsteps as far as money because right now I'm living good and I'm not even rich. So I don't need to be rich to be living good. So once I get that money I'm most definitely going to give back."
As for the immediate future, Smithson isn't sure what the next step will be. He's talking with Whittingham, his brother's high school coach and a couple of people in the community about what's best for the Smithsons.
Should they remain in Utah while Shaky pursues a professional career?
"Right now we really don't know," Smithson said. "We'll figure it out by the end of the season."
The No. 1 priority, he noted, is what his little brother would like to do.
The two share a strong bond. On the night Anthony helped Highland win the state title, Shaky and his Utah teammates were in San Diego. They huddled around a Web feed of the television broadcast.
"It was crazy because we had like four iPads running, four phones running and it kept going in and out," Smithson said. "And every time it went in and out I'd just go crazy."
After the double-overtime game finally came to an end, big brother acknowledged it was amazing.20 comments on this story
"When I heard that he won the game I started getting emotional — started crying and everything," Smithson said. "Then my Dad came home (from prison) the same day. So it was a good day just to be a Smithson."
Fish called Shaky and told him to get a "W" at San Diego State the next day. The Utes did and all of the Smithson boys were on hand for the win over BYU at Rice-Eccles Stadium the following week.
"It was a great feeling," Shaky said.
It's part of a big, bright picture for the talented Ute. Things are turning out just how he wanted it.
"But I always thought it was far away from turning out that way," he acknowledged. "And it was very close."