NATCHITOCHES – Leonard Smith officially became the seventh McNeese Cowboy to be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame when he accepted his enshrinement here Saturday night at the Natchitoches Event Center.
Smith, an All-American and All-Southland Conference player for the Cowboys from 1980-82, joined a class that included football standouts Kevin Faulk and Jake Delhomme, softball coach Yvette Girouard, horse trainer Frankie Brothers, football coaches Pat Collins and Otis Washington, and basketball player Avery Johnson. Also inducted into the Hall included Glenn Quebedeaux and the late Bobby Dower as the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism recipients, and Paul Hoolahan as the Dave Dixon Sports Leadership Award honoree.
Smith was as fierce as they come on the football field with the Cowboys and a nine-year NFL career with stints at the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills, but that fierce side took a turn towards the emotional when he accepted his award.
“My life started with two people, Francis and Leonard,” he said as he choked back tears. “I lost Francis when I was just a kid. Family picks up family. My aunt and her husband took me in. They flipped their family to take in their sister's child and let me live my life.
“After a few years, my other aunt and uncle took me in and took it from there.
“I am proud of the two people that made me who I am. I have friends in here that have come to be with me here. They've taken time out of their life to be here for me.
“I'm on cloud 25, not nine.”
Smith, the 17th pick in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the then-St. Louis Cardinals, was presented by his McNeese position coach Johnny Suydam who delivered a speech that focused on how much he respected the game, his teammates and his opponents.
“I didn't want to come in here with a cracking voice,” said Smith. “I wanted you to see the hard hitter type person I am. Whether I hit you in bounds or out of bounds, you were going to get hit.”
Smith, who played in two Super Bowls and was an All-Pro at Buffalo, was recruited by LSU out of Lee High School but a knee injury led to LSU pulling its scholarship offer and he signed with McNeese. A career that saw him become, and still is, the NCAA record holder for most blocked field goals in a career (10) and total blocked kicks in a career (17).
“My career might not have gotten started had I put all my eggs in one basket,” he said. “Everyone was LSU, LSU, LSU. So after my injury, LSU decided not to offer the scholarship and there was this one coach, he's here tonight, John McCann, who came to me and offered me a scholarship. I told him ‘I don't know, I have this injury.' He then said ‘oh you're okay. Sign this'.
“So I did. And it was the best thing that happened to me in my life.
“There's only one thing I would change in my life in my football career is when McNeese first came to me to sign a scholarship, I would've done it right then.”
Six months ago, Smith took his rightful place in the College Football Hall of Fame to become the first McNeese Cowboy to do so, but there's no doubt his enshrinement in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame put a stamp on his career.
“I'm home,” he said. “This is Louisiana. My home is accepting me to be the man I am, the talent I am, and the person I am. I'm truly blessed.”
"This is more significant because this is the state you're from. you're being recognized by your peers. and a lot of people already went into the hall prior to us going in this coming Saturday, so it is more than exciting and I've been on a cloud nine for a couple months now. "