This past week, Chris Smith's NCAA record for yards receiving by a tight end fell.
It had a great run.
The BYU tight end, who played with Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, set the mark 15 years ago. Until Tulsa tight end Garrett Mills hauled in a 28-yard catch against Central Florida in the Conference USA championship game last Saturday, Smith's mark ruled.
The record of 1,156 yards in one season is now 1,164, and it came on that catch by Mills with 2:06 left in the game. Eight yards. It fell by just eight yards.
"Dang it, I didn't know it was broken," Smith said when contacted this week.
"That destroys me," he laughed. "I thought it would last, that it would be there for a long time. But 15 years is a good run. I'm proud of it."
Those 15 years are a long time. There are plenty of great tight ends who've come and gone in college football, putting up all kinds of numbers. Four Cougars who went after Smith Gabriel Reid, Itula Mili, Doug Jolley and Chad Lewis are still in the big league.
But Smith never made the big time beyond college. He signed with the University of Arizona and transferred to BYU, where he helped set all kinds of marks with Detmer.
But Smith is one of those guys whose life has a "rest of the story" legacy few ever knew. His record may have died this past week. But there are records, then there are records.
Smith grew up with seven brothers in an extremely competitive atmosphere. His parents, Robert and Kay Smith, moved from Colorado to California when Chris entered the ninth grade. His older brother Kenny played noseguard at BYU. The Smith family settled in a small mountain community, nestled between Pasadena and Glendale, called La Canada. Robert Smith worked for a company that exported cement from Taiwan.
For the Smiths, their seven sons merged with three adopted daughters for a round number of 10. Kay Smith called Chris her peacemaker, a positive-minded No. 5 child. It was his compassion that she'll remember.
Chris is 11 months older than Carlton, who has cerebral palsy and lived without the use of his legs. As they grew up, Chris and Carlton were the perfect example of the cruel paradox nature sometimes plays.
Chris became one of the most celebrated athletes in the history of La Canada. Big, strong, fast, he helped set a national high school relay record in track. He set a school record in the 400 meters with a dash of 47.3 seconds. In football, he played wide receiver and helped La Canada to the most recognition it ever had in athletics. He had scholarship offers from UCLA, USC, Washington, Arizona and BYU.
Carlton was the most seriously orthopedically handicapped school child the town had ever been involved with. Special arrangements were made for him to use the library, and he was given a key to the school elevator.
Chris was a poster boy athlete. Carlton spent his entire day trying to make his body work. It was a struggle to move across a room. Carlton had 12 surgeries as a youth. Once he was hospitalized for seven weeks, using a skateboard to get around for the remainder of the year. "It was a case of a brother who could do so much and another who could do so little," Kay said.
Chris, however, became his brother's personal crutch. He carried Carlton from the car to the house, from room to room, lifted him into chairs and onto couches. He pushed Carlton's wheelchair around Disneyland on the high school's annual sluff day. Instead of hanging with his friends, he never left his brother, carrying him to the rides.
Carlton hated the idea of going to school in a wheelchair, so Chris helped him master a walker. One day he used the walker to enter his math class. In pain and slow, Carlton moved across the room and sat down as classmates gave him a standing ovation. During football practice involving Chris, Carlton would use his walker around the track and developed his upper body strength and could bench 400 pounds.
When Chris graduated from La Canada, Carlton lost his crutch and he struggled. When it came time for Carlton to serve an LDS mission, he only made it six months. On one tough discouraging day as a missionary, Chris, who had already served a mission, called church headquarters and volunteered to go to his brother's mission and be his companion the remaining 18 months. The request was respectfully turned down.
Carlton attended SUSC where he met his future wife. In the Manti Temple, Chris was there to carry his brother whenever needed. When Carlton got to the marriage altar, he was so nervous, he began shaking uncontrollably. The man performing the married asked Chris to kneel at the altar and hold his brother in his arms while vows were exchanged.
Chris has often told Carlton his achievement in going to college, marrying, getting a job and becoming a father is more impressive than any catch or record he'd ever had.
To their mother, Kay, Chris' records pale in comparison to the memory of her No. 5 son lifting his brother in life. "Of all the things Chris has done in his life, his devotion and compassion for his brother is the thing I'm most proud of."
In April 1991, the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Smith in the 11th round, the 295th player taken and the 17th tight end selected.
Draft day humiliated Chris Smith. Two months earlier, scouts had him rated the No. 1 tight end in the draft. He attended the NFL Combine in Indianapolis with a couple of minor injuries and ran a 5.05 time in the 40 this from a legit 4.6 big man. He thought scouts would go more on his game films and performances.
A Sports Illustrated article hit the stands just before the draft and included negative quotes about Smith from a Toledo tight end and a scout. The magazine featured tight end Jerry Evans, who was at the Combine and said of Smith: "He's effeminate. He can't block."
NFL scout Dave Te' Thomas added another insulting quote: "I think Chris will look good in a business suit."
The week after the draft, Smith was still rattled from his fall in the draft. He wondered if somebody at BYU had pitched negative information about him. He then saw the pre-draft SI article. He was visibly hurt and shook his head. I know I showed him the article while we stood in a newsroom.
Smith didn't make it with the Bengals that summer. The team had vets Rodney Holman, Eric Kattus and Jim Riggs at the tight end spot.
Today, Smith works for a start-up company that has exclusive rights to Browning products, the gun company which has just made inroads into automotive accessories. He lives and works in Salt Lake City, where he and his wife, Sarah, have three children. He helps coach his daughter's club soccer team, plays basketball several times a week and at one point had a five handicap in golf.
His parents live in South Jordan. Carlton lives in Colorado, father to a 12-year-old.
Smith does look good in a business suit. Ty Detmer liked him in shoulder pads. Carlton has moved on from his personal crutch.
At La Canada High, Smith's 400-meter record still stands to this day.
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