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Lobo receiver fights through tough times

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It's been some month for Marcus Smith.

The New Mexico receiver leads the Mountain West and ranks 18th nationally, averaging 94.3 yards per game. His 7.83 reception average leads the league and ranks eighth in the nation.

Smith, a senior, also returns kicks for the Lobos (4-2, 1-1), off to their best start in 10 seasons under coach Rocky Long.

But all that success on the field is tempered for Smith by what's happened lately away from football.

His mother, Sheila, died Sept. 16 at her San Diego home.

"It's tough on him," Long said. "I don't think he's gotten completely over losing his mother yet, but I think him being part of our team has allowed him to get through it."

Sheila Smith, 52, died of natural causes in her sleep shortly after New Mexico's 29-27 victory at Arizona — a game where her son had 11 catches for 164 yards receiving and 217 all-purpose yards.

Three weeks later, Smith is feeling more like himself.

"It's getting easier and easier to get back into the flow," he said.

But it's been a tough ride.

Because of his family situation, Smith learned he was responsible for $6,000 in funeral expenses.

He's the youngest of three boys raised by a single mom who worked as an in-home assisted living nurse. One brother died when Smith was 9. Another is jailed, unable to attend Sheila Smith's services.

The money was raised, though, through a memorial fund established by an Albuquerque bank. Under NCAA rules, New Mexico couldn't sponsor such an effort.

Donations accumulated quickly, even providing a little extra cash that went to charity. Smith was overwhelmed and thanked college football fans for the response, as people in Albuquerque and beyond offered money and support.

"I got a few letters from BYU fans — fans from a team that we have an intense rivalry with," he said. "I didn't expect that. Fans in Virginia, fans in northern California sent stuff. It was really, really shocking."

Smith planned the funeral service from Albuquerque, aided by an uncle in San Diego. All the while, he continued to attend practice and class.

"I find going to school is helping me keep my mind off it," Smith said. "Even though I might not want to go to class or I feel stressed out, if I go to class, taking notes and reading, things like that, it brings my mood up."

Days after his mother's death, Smith suited up for a 58-0 win over Sacramento State. He practiced for three days before her funeral, then flew to San Diego, returned to Albuquerque and played that weekend in a 31-24 loss to BYU.

"It was pretty strong of him to come back and play in the next game after his mom's funeral," teammate Ian Clark said.