There aren’t that many high school athletes who can say they have a professional athlete as a role model.
Faith Lutheran’s Keenan Smith has three.
His father is former Runnin’ Rebel point guard Dedan Thomas, who played professionally in Japan and ranks sixth on UNLV’s career assist list.
His stepfather is Shane Victorino, who is set to begin the American League Division Series with the Boston Red Sox Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays.
His head coach is Vernon Fox, who spent eight years playing with four NFL teams.
That’s quite the trifecta for a young man to have in his life.
One is “Dad,” one is “Shane,” and one is “Coach Fox.”
That’s how Smith refers to them all, while he steers clear of anyone’s shadow and is blazing his own path toward success with the Crusaders.
It coincides with something Victorino has continued to instill in him with five simple words of advice: “You build your own legacy.”
“Is there motivation in being around me? I’m sure there is,” Victorino said during a phone interview Wednesday night. “You can see he is embracing and taking it all in. He’s never lived in our shadows. He’s playing a whole different sport and he’s doing it on his own accord. And to be able to do that, that comes with his confidence. It also takes hard work and dedication.”
Smith lives with Victorino and his mother, Melissa, and maintains a very close relationship with his father. Smith said watching both Thomas and Victorino has helped him in many different ways, particularly in work ethic, striving for his goals and setting an example for everyone that is watching him.
“I’m not playing in their shadows because I’m not playing in their sport,” said Smith, the area’s third-leading Division I-A rusher with 513 yards on 68 carries. “One of the most important things that has gotten me through a lot of stuff has been to listen to both them, because if I wouldn’t have listened to them I wouldn’t even be playing sports.”
Smith was straight forward when asked why he didn’t continue down a baseball path he was on in Little League and club ball while knowing Victorino could put him in a good position to pursue a career on the diamond.
“I could hit people, more than just at home plate; and I really liked that, so I just decided to stick with (football),” said the 5-foot-7-inch, 160-pound running back who has rushed for eight touchdowns and caught two more. His 10 touchdowns has him tied for third in Southern Nevada among all football divisions.
Thomas said he’s thankful Smith has the opportunity to learn from two additional men who genuinely care for his son.
“It’s just a blessing he’s in the situation he is,” Thomas said. “He has a great role model in Shane. Shane has always been there for him. (And) I’ve heard nothing but good things about coach Fox. Keenan is really blessed to be in the position he is, not only to be able to go to a school like Faith Lutheran, but to be under a coach like that … I don’t even have the words.”
Fox said he’s been impressed by his emerging star ever since taking his Crusaders to a Fresno State football camp, where Smith exuded toughness and team leadership while transitioning from wide receiver to running back.
“People may not think that it’s a big deal to go from being a wide receiver to being a running back, but it really is,” Fox said. “Having been one that has gone through a position change, I can’t say that I transitioned that easily. I was overly impressed with his ability to take that change (and) master it in a lot of ways.
“You go from getting the ball in space, to having to run between the tackles in the type of offense that we run. He’s not a big kid at all, and he’s fearless and I think that helped in his transition. His vision and the things he’s able to do didn’t require a lot of teaching and coaching. It was just some things he was able to do on his own that really impressed us.”
Fox is certain if Smith continues to progress on the field and maintain the right attitude off of it he’s a prime target for college recruiters. Smith’s dream is to put on one of Oregon’s many fascinating uniforms, and while that might be a stretch right now, the former NFL defensive back said Smith certainly could play for a fast-paced team looking for speed and versatility.
“He’s certainly a kid that has ability to do a lot of things,” Fox said. “He won’t be limited to one thing … you have an array of possibilities when you have a kid like Keenan Smith, when it comes to athletic ability. I’ve been there, and I know what it takes on the next two levels. Considering him being a college player, I think he hasn’t even tapped into what his full potential is, and once he comes into that realization, I think he’ll push himself even further to be as good as he can be.
“Certainly he is a kid who makes a difference on your roster right away. If you can get a kid like Keenan on your team, again, he’s versatile and he can do a lot and he can contribute early, he just has that type of ability.”