Before he was a teenager Kane High School senior Zuke Smith, the son of Rod and Lisa Smith, set his sights on becoming a college quarterback. He got a step closer to reaching that goal by recently committing to becoming a signal-caller at Alfred University in New York.
“I’m proud of him. Zuke started working towards playing college football at the next level when he was in fourth grade,” Smith’s mother said at a signing ceremony on Feb. 27.
When he was that age the Smiths began making trips with Zuke and his brother Keaton (2017 graduate) to work out with Darnell Dinkins a former Shenley High School star quarterback and linebacker who graduated from the Pittsburgh school in 1995. He was a QB and receiver at Pitt before becoming a starting safety in 1997-98. He also spent time in the NFL with Giants, Ravens, Browns, and Saints
“Since he made the decision to play college football in fourth grade he’s worked hard. He showed his determination with the weekly trips to Pittsburgh for training. I love seeing his dream come true,” Rod Smith said. “He’s excited about it and we really look forward to seeing what he can do at the collegiate level.”
“He worked really hard and showed a lot of resilience through his career. He played through a broken arm in Ridgway and went through the ups and downs of his varsity career since his sophomore year,” his mother said.
The Kane senior, who is currently playing for the Wolves basketball team, was also recruited by a slew of colleges including Grove City, Westminster, Mount Union, Geneva, Washington & Jefferson, IUP, and Edinboro and had Junior Day invites to Cornell, Holy Cross, Bucknell, and Fordham.
Alfred University is considered a top engineering school in the nation. Smith will be studying Mechanical Engineering while playing for the Saxons.
“We were told early on at a camp by James Franklin (Penn State head coach) to use football to get what you can and this shows it. He’s going to get a very good education in engineering and that’s what it’s all about – education first. Football has and will help him out with that,” said Smith's father.
Brian Aiello, Rod’s best friend (both were Wolves in the mid-80s) also played quarterback and received his engineering degree at Alfred. That played a factor in the decision as did the fact Smith's oldest son Rodney lives just 10 miles away from the campus.
The Saxons are led by long-time coach Bob Rankl who served as an assistant for 15 years before becoming the head coach prior to the 2014 season. He became the fastest Alfred coach to reach 40 wins and in just five years he became the fifth-winningest coach in the program's nearly 125-year-old history.
“We’re really excited about what they can do with him. They’re really excited about having him,” Lisa Smith said while pointing out another plus of going to Alfred. “I really love their faith-based ideals to go along with their sports programs. We’re really proud of him.”
Smith is looking forward to playing in college while winding down his basketball career before competing in track for a final season.
“I’m excited. It’s going to be fun. It won’t be Pennsylvania football anymore – it’s college football. It’s a different style and speed which is cool. I’m excited to play for sure,” he said.
The Kane senior is excited about playing for Rankl and the Saxon staff. He’s had many discussions with coaches on both sides of the ball. He’s thrilled they have plans for his signal calling.
“They want me to play quarterback which is nice. It’s what I know. They have a spread offense - which is cool. I like to throw so it’s a good fit,” said Smith.
The future Saxon played for head coach Jim Hillman the past three seasons. Before the 2020 season, the Kane coach brought back former head coach Todd Silfies and assistant Tyler Smith to help. It was a move that Smith felt boosted his career.
“Having Todd and Tyler back was definitely fun. Watching them with my brother for four years was something I wanted [to experience]. It definitely was cool and boosted my confidence to go play at the college level.”
Silfies will return as the Wolves head coach for the 2021 season. He had been at the helm from 2012 through 2017 and amassed a 63-12 record while leading the team to three-straight District 9 championships (2014 thru 2016). He feels Alfred is gaining a great player.
“He’s gifted athletically and a great leader. His compete level is as good as anybody I’ve ever coached. I’m excited about this opportunity he’s going to have to go to a great school like Alfred while pursuing both his academic and athletic dreams at the same time,” he said. "I’ve known Zuke for a long time. He used to be our water boy during camp and practices when his older brother was playing. I’m excited to see a kid grow up, be the leader he is, and take this next step in his career.”
Tyler Smith praised the commitment the Kane senior has put into honing his skills.
“He’s a great kid that puts the work in. Over time he’s put a ton of work in at camps and by just playing football and doing other things over the years. I think he’s going to have a great future,” he said.
The Kane assistant feels Smith’s quarterbacking skills are more than just physical.
“I think it comes from growing up doing it, watching it, and living the sports life. Before you even tell him something he knows. It’s like your just reassuring him what he already thinks. It just comes naturally to him.”
While known as Zuke – Smith’s name is Izaiah – something many don’t know. His mother revealed she and son Keaton started calling him “za za zukie” as an infant and narrowed it to Zuke as he got older.
“It’s a great nickname. It really defines his uniqueness as a kid too. He’s so traditional in the way he carries himself and acts. He loves his family, Jesus, and sports. As he struggled in high school football with the ups and downs he leaned on a certain scripture – Jeremiah 26:14. He wore it on his helmet on masking take the whole time,” his mom said.
Due to COVID-19, Alfred did not play in the fall but will be playing spring football. The abbreviated season will get underway on March 23 at Utica College. They began to practice on Feb. 23. The 2021, 10-game season will kick-off on Sept. 3 at Hobert College.
With the school just 92 miles from Kane, the Smiths plan on attending not only the five home games but those on the road as well.
“It’s going to be exciting to follow Zuke. They're all over New York and going to Michigan (Kalamazoo College, Sept. 25). It will be fun,” mom Lisa said.