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Will Smith Jr. inducted into IHSFCA Football Hall of Fame

COACH WILL SMITH JR. pictured holding the plaque he was awarded after being inducted into the 2024 IHSFCA Hall of Fame on March 23, 2024. He is flanked by ceremony attendees.

Will Smith Jr. was inducted into to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association (IHSFCA) Hall of Fame March 23, 2024, honoring his more than 20 plus years of coaching experience in Illinois high school football. His induction recognizes his commitment to discipline, dedication and determination to help develop young men in the inner city.

Smith spoke to the Crusader over the weekend about the importance of making history as the first African American in decades to be the commencement speaker for the ceremony, and what he’s learned throughout the decades as a Hall of Fame coach.

Smith said he felt blessed and honored to be named the commencement speaker for the 2024 Hall of Fame ceremony and for his induction.

“[I felt] surprise, and blessed when I received the call,” Smith told the Crusader.

“It is a great honor for me to be inducted along with 14 other GREAT COACHES!!,” Smith said of his induction.

According to his bio, coach Smith (a.k.a. Lil Coach) has served in the Chicago Public League for 28 years. During his career, he coached alongside several IHSFCA Hall of Fame coaches, including Elton Harris, Roy Curry, Jesse Chick, Terry Lewis, Fabray Collins, Al Scott and Lexie Spurlock.

His career began at his alma mater, Kenwood High School, where he led decades of young athletes to victory under the mentorship of legendary IHSFCA Hall of Famer, Coach J.W. Smith. After spending five years at Kenwood and 14 years at Percy L Julian High School, Coach Smith then went on to be the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at CVS High School under the late coach Chuck Chambers for nine years.

In addition to coaching at the high school level, he was also the head coach and director of a Chicago Public Schools elementary school football program for nine years. Over the course of his career, Smith coached in CPS city and two city suburban All-Star games as Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Back Coach, adds his bio.

While at Julian High School, Smith’s leadership impacted the football team’s promotion to the Red Division within two years, which then made the school a Public League dynasty for 12 years.

The Julian Jaguars won seven Public League city championships, two prep bowl championships, a blue green city championship, and were Illinois High School state quarterfinalists under Smith.

In 2016, Smith received the Hall of Fame award from Percy L Julian’s Alumni Association, because of his guidance in producing several all-public league selection athletes, all-state honorees, college football athletes, and seven NFL players, including two-time super champion Howard Griffith.

In 2017, he was given the Hall of Fame award by the Chicago Public League Football Association.

Smith said throughout his coaching career the only advice he would ever give another young coach trying to build a successful football program is the benchmark of his philosophy.

“I have learned to embrace the values of discipline, dedication and determination,” Smith said.

“I would share with them that coaching isn’t just about drawing up plays and yelling from the sidelines. Coaches must teach the fundamentals and techniques of the game. Instill values in their players, and guide the players to become better student athletes and better human beings. Coaches must always put players in a position to succeed!! My grandson is a head football coach at Chicago’s King High School.”

Aside from being a coach, Smith said he is most proud to be a mentor, volunteer and servant to the Chicago community.

For 17 years, Smith was Director of Special Events Security for Chicago Public Schools. After retiring in 2010, he founded and is now CEO of Special Event Services LLC, because of his dedication to community service and protecting the people of Chicago. In 2017, he was awarded the Head, Heart, and Hand Award and was a Chicago Defender Men of Excellence Honoree in 2018.

At the age of 72, Smith said he thanks the Lord for everything he has done for his life, and that his favorite scripture is from the book of Matthew Chapter 22:37-38.

“And he said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first Commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

After sharing his favorite scripture, Smith thanked his wife of 45 years, Ophelia, as well as his children and his siblings.

“Personally, I thank my support system, my spouse, and children for standing by me through the long hours, the tough losses, and endless pursuit of greatness!!,” Smith said.

The Crusader asked Smith, “What does it mean to not only be a good coach, but a good example and mentor to many, as well?”

Smith responded: “It truly means a lot to me that I have been a mentor and role model for many young men throughout my lifetime, especially seeing that many of them have become successful, productive citizens and are giving back to their community.”

Smith said the three words that best describe his character as a person are “God- Fearing Man.”

When it comes to coaches he admires most, Smith said there was no one more influential on his coaching career than [Head Coach] Dr. J.W. Smith.

“[It was] my mentor the late Dr. J.W. Smith,” Smith said.

“He took me under his wing as a high school senior at Kenwood High School. He came to Kenwood in my junior year. He introduced me to fundamentals of the game of football. He taught me a lot of my life lessons. He also mentored me throughout my professional career.”

In addition to his mentor Dr. Smith, Smith mentioned that other coaches played an influential role in his development as well.

“[Thanks to] Coach Roy Curry, for allowing me to pick his knowledge of offensive football and controlling my emotions during tough football games,” Smith said.

Of his retirement from high school football after 28 seasons, Smith said he will have great memories to take with him.

“I will have great memories for the rest of my life,” Smith said. “Thanking God for the blessings he has bestowed on me and my family.”

Smith added that his favorite childhood memories were growing up in the Woodlawn community and playing sports in the playgrounds until darkness. Smith also added he loved working on Saturday mornings at the neighborhood store, bagging groceries at Red Rooster, and working at the Universal Army Department Store selling menswear.

The former coach mentioned he also delivered local newspapers before school and that his favorite meal to eat is ribeye steak, potatoes, greens, fried chicken and cornbread.

Sports Editor at Chicago Crusader Newspaper | + posts

Joseph Phillips is the Sports Editor for the Chicago Crusader Newspaper. He is a Chicago native, who has been a sports writer for over 17 years. He also hosts the SC Media News and Sports Network Q&A radio show on WHPK 88.5 FM Chicago.

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