He used to catch passes and throw blocks to help his teammates score touchdowns in the National Football League, now he catches bad guys and helps neighbors when they are in need.
Andre Smith had two dreams as a kid growing up in Germantown; play football in the NFL and be a superhero. He had achieved both of these dreams by the time he turned 30. He played three seasons in the NFL and is currently a Montgomery County Police officer patrolling his hometown.
“I am fortunate that the Good Lord lined me up in a way to achieve those dreams,” said Smith.
Smith was four-years-old when his family moved to Germantown from Silver Spring. He attended Waters Landing Elementary School, and then Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, and graduated from Seneca Valley High School. He played football at Seneca Valley and was a scholarship tight end at Virginia Tech.
However, before football was a dream, his dream was to be in law enforcement or as Smith saw it — Superhero.
“I have always been intrigued by helping people through law enforcement,” said Smith, “I remember playing cops and robbers as a kid, and I was always the police. When I think of police officers, I envision a patrol car and good guys driving around and shining their spotlights into dark alleys where bad people are. I envision them as superheroes that come to help people in need of help, people who are at the lowest of the lows. The police come help them in whatever fashion is needed.”
Football wasn’t even something he considered until he got to high school. “Prior to high school I had only played backyard football,” said Smith. “We had a field right up the street – not even 50 yards from the house and all the neighborhood kids would come out and play. You would have 30-plus kids just running around and playing. I did not play organized football until I was a freshman in high school.”
“I think my parents weren’t very excited about me playing football, because they knew it was a rough sport,” he said. “They know the kind of time it demands and that a lot of injuries come from football.” The former pro football player said that he doesn’t even own a football currently.
That vision of the good guy with a badge stuck with Smith through his early days in internships while in college and through his NFL playing days. “No matter how many years I spent in the NFL, I think I would still want to come back and be a police officer, and especially being a police officer in your hometown. There is nothing like being home, living right down the street, and patrolling the area where I grew up.”
Smith is a 2017 graduate of the Montgomery County Police Academy and has been working as a patrol officer in the 5th District – Germantown since he joined the police department.
As a police officer, he has been involved in a number of dangerous situations, including being one of the responding officers to disarm the knife-wielding man wearing a Chewbacca costume at the Michael’s store last October 2017, for which he earned a Medal of Valor from the MCPD.
While he was at Virginia Tech, Smith became a target for quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Smith was initially known as blocking tight end, but he caught 19 passes for 187 yards and five touchdowns last season and earned honorable mention All-ACC selection his senior season.
“I was blessed with size and athletic ability,” said Smith, who is six-foot-five and 272-pounds. “I was fortunate enough to have coaches that took an interested in what I was doing and my determination to work hard and learn quickly. I think I didn’t really get noticed [by the coaching staff in high school] until they realized how determined I was to be good at a craft, and that I had size. I wasn’t the fastest or the strongest, but I tried to outwork everybody.”
Smith credits hard work and an innate desire to be good at something for his success. “It is the willingness to be determined to be good at something. I am a firm believer and I was always taught that no matter what you do, always give it a 150 percent. If you are going to do it, you might as well give it everything you have,” said Smith.
He said that determination was something he learned watching the way his mother, Julida Kilafwakun, approached life. “My mom was the most determined, hard-working women I have ever known. She had a lot of struggles and did everything on her own. She didn’t drive for the first 20 years that she was in Montgomery County. She would take us on RideOn buses to get us around. We would wake up and walk miles to get to school on time, and would then go to her job and be back to get us from school.”
“She wasn’t originally from here, so English wasn’t her first language,” said Smith. “She went back to school and got her GED and her associate’s degree from college. She did all that while managing three kids, pretty much on her own. She instilled the determination and resiliency which I innately have in me. I was blessed to receive that from her, just watching her and seeing how she did things.”
“I didn’t take high school seriously, and I ended up having bad grades,” confessed Smith. “I didn’t even think I was going to qualify to get a scholarship because of my grades, until my mother knuckled down on me. She saw the potential of what I had to achieve. She made sure I made up for those bad grades. She made me go to night school, summer school, and Saturday school.”
The summer of his senior year at Seneca Valley High School, at the age of 16, Andre Smith lost his mother to leukemia.
“Once I lost my mother — who was the single most important person in my entire world — knowing what she expected of me kept pushing me through. It gave me that determination; that chip on my shoulder to push through.”
Football was a great outlet, and a great way to stay busy and out of trouble, he said. “Kids are kids, and they can do knucklehead type things, but having the accountability of teammates and coaches to look after you and the expectation to stay in line and do the right thing, show up for practice on time, and do well in school — it was very helpful to my growth as a young man. The accountability and friendships that develop through teammates last a lifetime.”
One of his coaches at Seneca Valley was Bob Plante, who is currently the Head Coach at Clarksburg High School.
“Andre was a kid that lost his mother his senior year. So, the coaches really rallied around him,” said Plante. “We became very close during the college selection process.”
“Coach Plante, like all the coaches in high school, played a vital role in helping me succeed,” said Smith, who still has a very close relationship with Plante. “I have had a more family oriented connection with him. I still have dinner him once a week.”
“He is like a son to me,” said Plante. “He went through a lot, and he was a good kid. He comes to my house and has dinner with us. He is family. He is one of those guys that has been through adversity, and he is so selfless and so giving. I tell everyone that I have three boys, one is six-foot-five, and the other two are about five-foot-ten.”
Because of his size and ability, Smith was getting a lot of offers from Division 1 schools. “It was important to me when he went to Virginia Tech that the coaches knew his situation. I wanted somebody, who would look out for him when he was off the field. I wasn’t concerned about his play on the field.”
“One of the recruiters that came in to talk to us, was a man named Tony Ball from Virginia Tech,” said Smith. “The first thing out of his mouth when he shook my hand was ‘Our student-athletes graduate from Virginia Tech.’ He talked about a 97 percent graduation rate. I didn’t know much about Virginia Tech, but knowing that my education was going to get me further than sports ever could immediately drew my interest.”
He visited Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and felt at home there. “I didn’t know much about the history of their sports teams. I didn’t know that Michael Vick had gone there. The place was beautiful. There is a hometown feel. The town shuts down for football games. The people are great. I did like the uniforms, they looked cool, but most importantly — it felt like home to me.”
However, even while he was playing for a big-time football program like Virginia Tech, it was still his Germantown friends and “family” that kept him motivated.
“I truly did not realize that I had to potential to go and play in the NFL until maybe my senior year at Virginia Tech,” said Smith who also credits his best friend’s family, the Cochrans, who own Cochran Automotive Center in Germantown with being a big cause for his success. After the death of his mother, he moved in with the Cochrans. “They let me move in and took care of me and supported me. They would close down the shop and support me every single weekend at Virginia Tech.”
After college, Smith spent three years in the NFL. He was an undrafted free-agent playing tight end for the Chicago Bears in 2011. He, played for the Bears, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Dallas Cowboys before persistent back issues forced him to end his career with the Cleveland Browns.
In the NFL, Smith was often a member of practice squads for the teams which signed him. However, he did see action in five games for the Cowboys in early 2013. He didn’t catch any passes, but he did recover a squib kick and returned it for 10 yards. In November of 2013, he was placed on waivers and picked up by the Browns.
“Everyone hopes to get drafted, but that is not how it usually works. I wasn’t drafted. My first year I was with the Bears, and no words can describe the feeling of achievement of actually making it to play in the NFL. I felt like one of the lucky ones. It was fun, but it was also very busy and not exactly what you might expect. It is a lot more business oriented,” he said.
Home is important to Smith whether it is his adopted hometown of Blacksburg or his hometown of Germantown. “Life on the road [in college and the NFL] was good, but not so much for me. I am very much a homebody. I am a family oriented person.”
He said that when he’s asked by Coach Fred Kim, he will speak go back to his alma matter and speak to the Screamin’ Eagles football team. “I’ll go speak with the players at Seneca Valley and try to shed some light on how to stay focused and determined to make the most of your opportunities.” He is often asked by community groups to address young people.
It is the support and help that he received from the community when he was a senior at Seneca Valley, dealing with the death of his mother that continues to inspire him to go out and risk his life for the members of the Germantown community today.
“Losing my mom at the age of 16, I feel like I have lost quite a bit of my childhood, so I am drawn to young people to help them and support them. They are the future. You have to set the bar high, and show them love and care, especially if you are wearing the uniform of a police officer. I love interacting with kids and members of the community,” said Smith.
“Patrolling the area where you grew up; there is a sense of connection to it, there is a sense of responsibility,” he said. “Being a kid that was able to play outside in the neighborhood all hours of the night, until appropriate times and having that feeling of being safe was a great feeling. However, as time has gone on and things have changed, that might not be the same here these days. Coming back to Germantown was important to me.”
He acknowledges that the Germantown he returned to after college and his years in pro football isn’t the same. “The saying is ‘There is no place like home,’ and Germantown has always been home to me. I was here before all this was developed. I used go to on nature walks where the shopping center is now. Knowing that these are my roots, I feel responsible for trying to help preserve it and make sure it continues to be a good place to live and grow up.”
Coach Plante knows that Smith is in the right place, doing the right thing. “What he is doing for the community now, as Officer Andre Smith — that is him. He is a protective spirit. I tell my players all the time; it is OK to be a man, but you need to be a good man. You need to be humble. You need to have a protective spirit and have love in your heart. That is who Andre Smith is. And that is why I get choked up talking about him.”
“I left Germantown for quite a while, and things had changed a lot when I got back,” said Smith. “There has been a lot of development and more businesses. There is a lot more traffic which is good and bad, in terms of economic development, and the businesses have created more opportunities for people and that will help Germantown as a whole. Certain things about Germantown are still the same that I remember from my childhood; such as seeing kids playing outside playing in the playground. I am impressed that as busy as Germantown has gotten, some of the nooks and crannies that I know about still have some of the same family-oriented people living there with their kids playing outside all day long.”
Top: 5th District Police officers and former NFL football player Andre Smith patrols the neighborhoods of Germantown where he grew up. Photo by Germantown Pulse.
Next: Smith was a highly recruited player while at Seneca Valley. He went on to play at Virginia Tech. Smith (88) of the Virginia Tech Hokies runs with the ball past safety Isaiah Johnson (1) of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Lane Stadium on November 4, 2010 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images North America
Video: One of Smith’s five touchdowns scored during his senior year at Virginia Tech.
Next: Smith played for four NFL teams including the Dallas Cowboys. Photo by Howard Smith.
Next: Smith with his MCPD cruiser is living his dream of being a hero in Germantown. Photo by Germantown Pulse
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