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Loving Football Requires Players Be “Tough”

Beau Lanzidelle

North Andover-What would you sacrifice to achieve your dreams? Money, time, other opportunities perhaps? For one of Merrimack’s grad students, Jay Smith, he wouldn’t sell the world for his love of football.

In the last 16 years, Jason “Jay” Smith Jr. Has dedicated his life to playing football. An accomplished student athlete he has continued his collegiate career for the Warriors’ football team in the last four years.

“I used to play receiver but this is my first year playing running back here, honestly I just do what I can to play,” said Smith.

In order to play the game of football, players must be “tough,” not just physically but mentally as well. No one better encapsulates both areas as Jay does, with his mindset he wasn’t only able to last this long in his career, but was able to overcome a total of six surgeries during his time at Merrimack.

In 2018, after continuing to play on a damaged knee, Jay was diagnosed with cartilage defects from medical examiners, which later led to further tearing of the cartilage. Throughout the recovery process Jay underwent six surgeries, 20+ injections, and over a 100 physical therapy sessions in order to get back on the field.

 “My parents are my heroes because they helped support me in getting me whatever treatments or surgery I needed over the years,” claimed Smith.

 Even in dealing with the physical pain of recovering Jay had yet to face his biggest challenge. During the fall of 2021, Jay flew to Pensacola, Florida to undergo a knee operation. After receiving his 5th unsuccessful surgery, he spent the time at the Ronald McDonald House for sick children.

“It was very difficult mentally staying there because of the environment that I was in. I would meet families that would check into the Ronald McDonald House after me and then I would see their stay end early because, unfortunately, their child wasn’t able to make it through their illness. This would happen multiple times through my 48 nights there,” said Smith.

The crushing blow for Jay was that after coming back it was just too much to handle, the mental strain of the experience took its toll and he had to withdraw from school.

“I remember after withdrawing from school and football that I just needed a break from it all. I still worked a job during the fall of 21 but I still lived with my roommates and on Saturday mornings I would have to get ready for work while they would get ready for the game,” said Smith.

However, after a long period of time, Jay knew he had more to offer. With that, he received his sixth operation and returned in the spring of 21. For a regular person, most would hang up the cleats, but for Jay Smith, he simply refused to give up on his passion.

Through his hard work and grit Jay has played an abundant amount of snaps during the 2023 season, unfazed by the past. Jay is a great football player and teammate, but he is something that we all must strive to be.

A hard worker who will never give up on himself or the people that support him and who is able to overcome their limitations. In other words, he is “built different”.

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