For Alex Smith, getting inducted into the Utah Athletics Hall of Fame, a recognization of his excellent college career, is a dream come true.
“I just could never imagine any of it, the entire journey. Certainly not last night and today, absolutely not. My dream growing up was to play college football. I never dreamt in my wildest dreams that I would ever played professionally,” Smith said.
Smith, who recently retired after a 16-year NFL career, started his path to becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft at Utah — the school that took a chance on him.
“I love the idea of the student-athlete and playing for something bigger than yourself and getting your education at the same time,” Smith said. “And that was my dream. And one school gave me a chance. That was the U. and I’m grateful for it. It changed my life, shaped who I am today. And I’m so proud of it.”
Smith went on to be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever for the Utes, quarterbacking Utah as it went 10-2 (as a QB that season, Smith went 10-1, he did not play in the Texas A&M game), a Mountain West championship and a win over Southern Mississippi in the Liberty Bowl.
That 2003 season set the stage for one of the best Utah football seasons in school history as the Urban Meyer-coached Utes went 11-0 in the regular season, cumulating in a win over BYU in the season finale that ensured the Utes would be the first school from a “non-AQ” conference to participate in a BCS bowl game. Utah beat Pitt 35-7 in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl in front of a sea of red at Sun Devil Stadium to cap off the perfect season.
“I do think we would have beat anybody out there. This is my opinion. What we did those two years losing just one game, I think proved to the country that we can play with anybody,” Smith said.
Smith threw for 2,952 yards and 32 touchdowns that year and rushed for 631 yards and 10 touchdowns. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting and was selected No. 1 overall in the 2005 NFL draft.
Smith had NFL stops in San Francisco, Kansas City and Washington, carving out a solid pro career. He made the Pro Bowl three times, all with Kansas City. He led the 49ers to a playoff win in 2011 and turned around the struggling Chiefs, turning them into a regular playoff team as they made the playoffs in 2013, 2015 (the Chiefs beat the Texans that year for their first playoff win since 1993), 2016 and 2017.
Smith’s most memorable NFL moment came with Washington as he came back from a horrific leg injury that nearly cost him his leg and life and quarterbacked Washington to a playoff appearance in 2020.
Smith still keeps in contact with his old coach Meyer, now head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“He and I talked a lot as well. I got a chance to go out there and visit him this offseason. I’m excited for him, excited to see what he’s gonna do,” Smith said.
Smith and Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, the defensive coordinator for that 2004 team, also are in touch regularly.
“I got obviously recruited by Coach (Ron) McBride and Kyle was the D coordinator. So I’ve known Kyle now almost 25 years. And we remain close, still talk often. He and Urban are still close and in the small world of football, he knows Coach (Andy) Reid as well. In my time in Kansas City it was always fun to hear stories. I just saw Coach Whit’s son (Alex, defensive quality control coach for the Chiefs) in Kansas City last week, so yeah, incredibly close with Coach and we talk a lot and obviously I think the world of him and we’re lucky to have him here.”
Smith has kept tabs on the Utes and was on hand to watch Utah’s opening game against Weber State on Thursday.
“What they did in the Sugar Bowl and premier bowl games every year and winning and then obviously moving on here to the Pac-12. I’m pumped to see them continue to keep ascending. What’s that next step (a Pac-12 title), it’s right there in front of them and obviously I think all of us alumni are obviously rooting them on and watching,” Smith said.
Smith was officially inducted into the Hall of Fame on Wednesday night, along with Lori Baird (volleyball), Anthony Brown (football), Casey Child (baseball), Eddie Johnson (football) and Amy Timmel-Hogue (softball).
“To be able to come back now and to get inducted with these guys is such an honor and a privilege,” Smith said. “Like I said, I never never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that this would happen .. and certainly that I would be on the ride that I’ve been on. So definitely lucky.”