To Caleb Smith, the game of soccer has been a lifelong love affair.
The sport captured his attention when he was growing up in Florida more than 15 years ago, when he played youth soccer in suburban Miami. It continued when he moved several states away to Texas, where he began to play soccer at one of the highest amateur levels. He continued to play when he went to college in Dallas.
Now, Smith is a rising senior looking at what could be his last year of playing soccer at the amateur level. It’s a startling realization for the SMU defenseman. Three years have gone by in the blink of an eye. As he begins the slow process of coming to terms with this chapter of his life coming to a close, Smith can’t help but feel a little nostalgic.
“It’s been great,” Smith said. “But it’s had its ups and downs. My freshman year we made it to the sweet 16 and won the conference, but my sophomore year, we didn’t have such a great season. This year we bounced back and finished as a top 10 program in the nation.”
Wescott Field is a far cry from the fields of suburban Miami, where Smith got his start. In Dallas, the grass is green and well-manicured. The pitch is always in playing shape. The city of Dallas is more than 1,000 miles removed from where Smith fell in love with the game. Out in Miami, it’s easy to do just that. There, soccer is part of the culture, like beaches, mojitos and the wild nightclubs Miami is famous for.
“In South Florida, soccer is like such a great sport,” Smith said. “You’ve got a lot of Cubans, a lot of Hispanics, and that culture is just kind of contagious.”
Another reason was his older brother. Back then, the elder Smith was the one turning heads, the one dominating on the pitch. Caleb took a backseat to him but learned all the while.
“He was always the best player,” Smith said. “I was the one who just kind of sat back and watched him take all the glory. But then he actually motivated me to train hard and get better. That’s why I fell in love with soccer.”
That work ethic has been one thing that has stuck with Smith throughout his life. When the going gets tough, and Smith says it often does, he reminds himself of what he learned in those first years. When he wakes up early in the morning while the sky is still dark and the world is still, he reminds himself how he got to where he is now. Then he attacks the day.
“If you want to be really, really good, you have to sacrifice. You have to do things that not a lot of people do to be great,” Smith said.
Today, soccer remains on of the fixtures of his life. Even off of the pitch, when he’s training or watching Netflix, Smith can be found in front of a television playing his favorite video game: FIFA.
Or, he can be found reading his Bible. Faith is a big part of his life. It’s something he’s grown up with. While Smith feels like he might have strayed away from God just a little bit in college, he still tries to ground himself in scripture. He looks above when times get bad. When things go well, when he has a good game or helps his team score a goal, Smith gives God the glory.
“He gives me the strength to kick a soccer ball,” Smith said.
His parents also played a big part in helping him become successful. They taught Smith the values that he believes make him a good person. They set the foundation for his life.
“My mom and dad always told me to believe in yourself, believe in who you are,” Smith said. “Those values that they brought me up with, like being kind to people, being respectful, to have integrity, really defines who I am. And I really try to carry myself that way, each and every day.”
Smith says he will look to play professionally after he leaves SMU. He hopes to play in the MLS but would love to play in Europe if granted the opportunity to do so. Until then, Smith has one goal on his mind: he wants to win a conference championship — maybe even a national championship.
“I hope to finish on a high note,” Smith said. “Maybe get another ring on my finger.”