Tevaun Smith was just going with the flow of things.
Now he’s in the National Football League.
“It all started when I transferred from a school downtown to here. There were a bunch of other guys that came in and I kind of just followed,” recalls the Indianapolis Colts receiver of his decision to attend North York’s Chaminade College School.
It was Pat Diodati, head coach of the school’s football team, who found himself being urged by one of his students to recruit Smith.
“One particular kid, Marcus, was like ‘Coach, we need to get this kid Tevaun here.’
“Second semester of Grade 9, he [Smith] transferred to our school.”
Diodati remembers a young Smith, who had admittedly not been making the best decisions before arriving at Chaminade, experiencing some initial growing pains in his new environment.
“He had just transferred to our school. I spoke to his mom over the phone, got a chance to meet him, and said ‘this is the way things are here.’ He was walking through the halls after his first week and another teacher approached him and said, ‘you’ve got to take your hat off and be careful with that chip on your shoulder.’ I pulled him into the office and said, ‘you’ve got to do things a certain way around here. Trust me, stay out of trouble, and everything will work out.’
“From that day forward, we never had any problems,” said Diodati.
Not only were there no problems, there was much to celebrate. Under Diodati’s tutelage, Smith, a three-sport athlete for the Gryphons who also excelled at basketball and track, went on to create a template for Chaminade athletes to follow – both on the field and in the classroom.
Smith was in the tenth grade when Diodati and another coach brought him and several other athletes to a regional combine event in Detroit.
That’s when it clicked.
“He was competing against Grade 11 and 12s down there and you could see that he was outperforming these guys. He was faster than all of them; I think he had the fastest 40-yard dash there. The other coaches and I were talking and saying, ‘we think he’s got something here.’”
More importantly, Smith started to believe in himself.
“He said, ‘I think if I work harder, I can do even better.’ I thought, this kid’s got a goal and he’s going to achieve that goal because of the way he’s working, both academically and athletically.”
Smith acknowledges that career-altering trip to Detroit, and subsequent stops at Kent School and the University of Iowa, would likely not have happened had it not been for Diodati helping him become more open-minded.
“He’s always talking about stuff outside of football. When I first got here [Chaminade], I just wanted things my way. I didn’t think of going to camps until he brought me there. Even now, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do after football. What I’m going to do out here [Toronto] to help kids,” said Smith, whose favourite game in the green and gold came in a homecoming victory over rival Don Bosco, coached by late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
Diodati, a 17-year Ontario high school coaching veteran, asserts that teaching is a two-way journey that Smith bought into.
“I was taught by my teachers in high school, and in particular by my coach, that you’ve got to develop relationships with kids. That’s how you get across to them. It’s a relationship built on trust, loyalty and honesty. Tevaun did that with me.”
With his dream of making it to the NFL accomplished, Smith is setting his sights on a new goal: growing the sport of football in Canada, much like those he used to see on the court – including Minnesota Timberwolves star Andrew Wiggins – have done for basketball.
“It would mean a lot to me. When I was playing basketball, I watched those guys grow. Now that I’m in a position where I’m doing the football side of things, I feel like, ‘Why can’t I do what they’re doing?’
“If we [Canadian NFL players] all came together and really tried to push it, it would be something that would grow up here.”
And when it does, no one will be happier for Smith than the teachers, coaches and students at 490 Queen’s Drive in North York.
“There was a lot of help here. Everyone bought into his goal and everyone celebrates that goal with him. The relationship Tevaun has is with the entire school, because I feel the entire school is just really, really proud of him.”