Smith is an artist as QB and off field
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Geno Smith wasn't always just a football prodigy.
In gifted classes since a young age, long before the mountains of West Virginia danced in his head, he excelled in the arts.
Charcoal and pencil sketches. Watercolors. He wrote and read poetry. He painted in acrylics.
His mother, Tracey Sellers, who raised him in the shadow of Sun Life Stadium, had big dreams for her son in the classroom. By high school he fielded scholarship offers to art schools in New York and Miami.
It was her brother, a major figure in young Geno's life, who recognized his gifts on the football field.
And so began the journey that would send Smith from inner Miami, and Miramar High School, to West Virginia and a trip to the Orange Bowl as No. 23 West Virginia takes on No. 15 Clemson.
"My brother saw the gift. I saw another gift," Sellers said. "He became this legend at the parks. It started with flag football. The mention of his name and people would say 'Oh miss Tracey we want Geno to play for our team.'
"My brother really had to convince me. People see Geno the athlete, and he does well. I cheer him on in the classroom because I got to see those other gifts."
A young mother, she enlisted her brother, Antwon Sellers, to take Geno to the parks after school while she was working.
Early on, said Antwon Sellers, his nephew was flashing real potential.
"We put a lot of work in on the fundamentals. We worked on footwork early. Coaches were impressed. They wondered how does this kid know so much?" he said.
Stedman Bailey, another Miami product, heard the name in kid circles.
Bailey played on a different youth team, and though the two would eventually connect in high school and become best friends, he saw Smith enough in those early years to notice he was at another level.
"You know as kids there are not really quarterbacks who have the mechanics, just a lot of running around," Bailey said. "Geno was really a true quarterback as a child. He had all the mechanics. He was taller and separated himself from everyone."
Soon Sellers, armed with oranges and Capri Sun, would see what others did.
"His passion for the sport, it took a while for me to realize this is serious," she said. "As a kid he would watch VCR tapes of Tom Brady and rewind it so much it would pop. He's not just playing football. He knows this sport. He has a true passion deep down. When I watch him, it's amazing."
Forever the perfectionist, Smith is known to return to the video room after games to breakdown more film long after his teammates have gone home.
His mom remembers a call late after West Virginia's loss in September to LSU.
It was 1 a.m. and she pleaded for him to go home. "'Son, go home,' I said. He said 'Mom, I'll be OK. Not right now.'"
Smith, who led the Mountaineers' seventh-ranked passing offense in Division I-A, feels like he can do more.
West Virginia passes for 341.8 yards a game, averages just shy of 35 points and even in a bad game can click into another gear.
"We left a lot of yards on the field this year," Smith said. "We had a chance to be one of the top offenses in the nation and we left a lot of yards on the field."
Antwon Sellers is not surprised of the resolve.
He jokes that maybe he drove his nephew too hard.
"Maybe I drove him a little too much? I tried to instill that focus in his mind," he said. "Just go out there with that business savvy. There's a lot of people looking at you. It's different. To see him now, the drive he has, the focus he has it's very exciting."
Smith said his drive does come from his family.
He remembers being pushed and it's a part of who he is now.
"My mother was one of those mothers who was hard on me. A 'C' was never good enough, a 'B' was never good enough," he said. "She always wanted perfection out of me. People don't understand I'm such a perfectionist. I think it's paying off for me."
As for the arts? It's still there, but humming in the background.
He reads poetry, doesn't write much of it anymore. He doodles in his notebook and works toward an English degree.
He chose football.
And thinks he's doing all right.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JennMenendez
First Published January 3, 2012 12:00 am