Harrison Smith became a familiar sight this season roaming the defensive backfield for the Minnesota Vikings as a starting safety.
Monday night, the Catholic High School graduate was roaming an even more familiar place for him — Sacred Heart Cathedral School, where he attended from kindergarten until graduating from the eighth grade in 2003.
“It’s pretty wild coming back here,” he said between greetings from former friends and mentors inside the school’s gymnasium, where a fund-raising dinner in his honor was being held. “I remember playing basketball games here and going to gym class.”
In what was his first public appearance in Knoxville since completing a rookie year that included returning two interceptions for touchdowns, he was the guest of honor for “An Evening with Harrison Smith.”
During the event, which was emceed by ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch and raised money for the Northshore Drive school’s annual fund, Smith answered questions from the several dozen school supporters in attendance.
Punch’s wife, Joni, who is the Sacred Heart development and admissions director, also made the surprise announcement that a $2,500 Harrison Smith scholarship will be presented annually in his honor.
According to communications director Pam Rhoades, the scholarship will go to an outstanding and model student at the school.
In an interview prior to the dinner, Smith said he was pleased with his first season with the Vikings, which ended with a wildcard playoff loss to Green Bay.
“It was a good first year,” he said. “Obviously the goal is to win the Super Bowl every year. We fell a little short, but I think we surprised some people and made the playoffs. And Adrian Peterson was the MVP. He was fun to watch.”
Smith also admittedly enjoyed watching the undefeated regular-season run of his college alma mater, Notre Dame, where he had been a starting linebacker and safety after graduating from Catholic in 2007.
“It was wild,” he said. “I really didn’t expect them to go undefeated and go all the way to the national championship, but watching them win every week was awesome.”
He also has plenty of warm memories of Sacred heart, from all his classes, to recess, to after-school care.
“I remember it all,” he said with a laugh.
He said he still stays in close touch with middle school basketball coach Bill Deatherage, who spoke of Smith fondly during the pre-dinner gathering.
“It’s great to be able to see someone you were close to develop into the kind of young man he is,” Deatherage said.
Deatherage and former school contemporary and current Sacred Heart teacher Davis Bodie both remember Smith being a good athlete, and Bodi added he was also good with manners around adults.
“He was always really polite,” Bodie said. “I remember that.”