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A good life: Ute football player shares good fortune with family

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 29 2009 1:06 a.m. MDT

University of Utah football player Shaky Smithson helps his 15-year-old brother, Anthony Smithson, with his geometry at their apartment in Salt Lake City. Shaky is the custodial parent of Anthony, who is a 4.0 student and plays football at Highland High.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News

Growing up in one of Baltimore's roughest neighborhoods, Antoine "Shaky" Smithson wanted only to avoid it and then to escape it. He spent his youth lying low, seeking refuge in the safety of the gym or his own living room. When he was finally able to put the city in his rearview mirror, he went to Los Angeles first and then the University of Utah.

It was as if Shaky couldn't put enough distance between himself and the old neighborhood. The drugs and violence and pointlessness of the street life. His father's lost job and incarceration. His parents' split. A lost year of school. The months of helping care for siblings in his father's absence.

So here he is, sitting in his apartment in the foothills above Salt Lake City, of all places, and it's as if he has landed on another planet. He can walk outside and not feel threatened. There are no gangs hanging out on street corners, no one offering drugs or menacing violence. He has broken the hold that the old neighborhood has on so many like him.

"They have cameras on the light poles on each corner," he says. "That's how bad the crime is. It's not often that kids make it to 21 years old. I'm blessed. I'm glad I'm still living and doing what I love to do."

What he loves to do is play football. Shaky — the name he earned (and prefers) for his moves on a basketball court — counted on football to save him from a hard life, and, cliche or not, that's exactly what happened. His gridiron skills brought him to East Los Angeles College and then to the University of Utah, where he plays wide receiver and running back for the Utes.

"I'm fortunate to be here," he says.

Almost the first thing Shaky did when he arrived was to share his good fortune. He offered a lifeline to another family member. With his mother's encouragement, he officially became the legal guardian of his younger brother, Anthony, and brought him to Salt Lake City this summer. Shaky is 22, Anthony 15, and they share an apartment and a life of school and football.

"I'm very glad we did it," Anthony says. "It's a better place than Baltimore. There was stuff I wanted to get away from."

The Smithsons have slipped into a practiced routine. They rise at 6:30, shower and eat breakfast. A classmate picks up Anthony and drives him to Highland High while Shaky goes off to classes at the U., where he majors in sociology. In the afternoon, they report to their respective football practices.

Shaky has nine catches for 56 yards. In Saturday's win over Louisville he filled in at running back because of injuries and had four carries for 18 yards.

Anthony, who plays for Highland's sophomore team as a ninth-grader, has nine touchdowns and five interceptions in five games while playing quarterback, receiver, running back and cornerback.

After practice, the brothers meet at their apartment and spend the evening doing homework, eating dinner and watching TV.

"Yeah, I can cook," says Shaky. "I just call my mama. On Sunday I fix mashed potatoes, corn, string beans … ."

Shaky tried to claim legal guardianship of his brother when he was enrolled at East Los Angeles a couple of years ago "but the support system wasn't in place," he says. He needed a Division I football scholarship and financial assistance to take on the responsibility of his brother. After transferring to Utah in February, he began the legal guardianship process in March, and Anthony joined him in June.

"Basically," says Shaky, "I'm his father now."

Shaky and Anthony receive financial assistance from the Division of Social Services, from the Rev. France Davis and from team chaplain Phil Thompson. "Adoption was the best way to go because Anthony was in the DSS system," says Shaky. "He still gets (financial) help that way."

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