Much was at stake when DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, and his 17-year-old son Alex hit the golf course for a nine-hole round in the summer of 2016.
If the younger Smith won, he could skip playing soccer in his senior year at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac. But if the elder Smith could pull off the upset, he would be able to watch his son play his fourth and final season of soccer for the Lions.
“I played the best seven holes of golf on the planet,” DeMaurice Smith, 55, recalled Wednesday. “I shot the lights out and then completely fell into the abyss on [Nos.] eight and nine. I think he won by three strokes, and that was it.”
Alex Smith, now 19, said it should not be a surprise he won that day. “He’ll go through about a case of balls and then he just falls apart,” he said. “I’ll lose a couple here and there, but not too bad.”
DeMaurice Smith is quick to acknowledge his son “is an exponentially better golfer.” But he noted he made his son sweat for the right to bypass playing soccer.
“He’s such a better golfer than I am that I’ve never seen him nervous on the golf course playing with me — until that day,” he said with a laugh.
Besides family, sports is a centerpiece to the relationship between father and son, a sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder for the No. 3 Maryland lacrosse team.
DeMaurice Smith was a defensive back at Riverdale Baptist School in Upper Marlboro and a member of the track and field team at Cedarville University in Ohio. Alex Smith played baseball, basketball, soccer and lacrosse before settling on four years of basketball and lacrosse and three seasons of soccer at St. Andrew’s.
Despite his father’s work with players in the NFL, Alex Smith said he was free to select the sports in which he participated. He did play one year of youth football, but gave it up when he enrolled at St. Andrew’s because the private school did not field a football team.
“He was respectful of whatever I wanted to do, but he was a big believer in me sticking it out through sports in high school,” said Alex Smith, whose family lives in Bethesda. “That’s why I played soccer and lacrosse for four years and basketball for three years. He was a big believer of variety and having the experience of playing different sports to be the best athlete I could be.”
DeMaurice Smith said he and his wife, Karen, stressed to Alex and his older sister, Elizabeth — who played basketball in high school — the benefits of playing a variety of sports rather than a specific one.
“We’re big fans of what sports teach you and the lessons you learn,” he said. “But when it came to a particular sport, we really didn’t care and certainly didn’t pressure him one way or the other.”
After graduating from St. Andrew’s, Alex Smith spent his freshman season at Hartford, totaling 12 points on seven goals and five assists in 13 games (seven starts) as an offensive midfielder. But Smith elected to transfer partly to be closer to his family, which includes paternal grandparents Arthur and Mildred Smith. And when the Terps expressed interest, Michigan, Penn State, Richmond and Rutgers quickly faded into the background.
Maryland coach John Tillman, however, made it clear to Smith that the quickest path to getting playing time would be lining up as a short-stick defensive midfielder. That was fine with Smith, who has collected six ground balls in nine games.
“If I need to play short-stick defensive middie for my team and fill that job in order to have a successful year and contribute positively to the team, then I’ll do that to the best of my ability,” he said. “If an offensive role came into play later, I would obviously explore that option and be happy to do it. But as of right now, I’m really happy to play short-stick D-middie, and I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
DeMaurice Smith, whose parents celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary at the team’s 13-10 loss to No. 1 Penn State on Sunday night, has missed only one game — the Feb. 2 season opener against Bucknell because he was attending Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. He said when he trades his business suit for a Maryland sweatshirt and hat, he can go unnoticed.
“I generally get recognized for being Alex’s dad first and some guy from football second,” he said with a laugh. “It’s always, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Alex Smith’s dad,’ and then, ‘Eh, I think that guy might have something to do with football.’ Actually, I prefer it that way. I’m happy to have an existence that is entirely dependent on my 19 year old. I’m a dad. You can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Tillman said he welcomes DeMaurice Smith’s support for his son and his son’s teammates.
“You can tell by what he posts on social media how excited he is for Alex and even just for our team,” he said. “So that’s been great. I think people around here kind of just know him as ‘De’ Smith the dad, and I think that’s something that he can appreciate. We just want people to come and enjoy the moment and kind of let their hair down and be one of the families, and [he can] just focus on Alex and the team, and I think that’s a fun thing for everybody.”
Smith has blended quickly with his teammates. He has already moved into an off-campus house with three other sophomores — attackman James Avanzato, midfielder Kyle Berkeley and faceoff specialist Justin Shockey — and is majoring in criminal justice with an eye toward a legal career much like his father’s, which included working as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington for nine years.
For DeMaurice Smith who grew up rooting for the Terps basketball program led by stars such as Brad Davis, Len Bias and Juan Dixon, watching his son represent Maryland is a blessing.
“It’s fun walking into the stadium and tapping Testudo on the nose and knowing your kid is wearing a Maryland jersey,” he said. “It’s special in sort of a timeless way.”