Donovan Smith went to high school in Owings Mills, Maryland, played at Penn State, and was drafted by Tampa Bay. But when it comes to identifying himself geographically, the starting left tackle in Super Bowl LV on Sunday and protector of Tom Brady’s blindside cuts right to the point.
"I’m Long Island all day," he said on Thursday.
Because that’s where he was born ("Right there at Mercy Hospital across the street from Hempstead High School," he said) and spent most of his childhood ("Used to live on Wellington Street.")
Used to, of course, is the key to all of it. After his freshman year in high school, he and his twin sister, Ebony, moved south to live with their uncle. It was a little bit of a better situation for the teenagers there, more opportunities for them, fewer chances to get into trouble.
"I have a lot of memories of hanging out with my friends, running the streets," he said of his time in Hempstead with a laugh that was perhaps a clue to why the move took place. "I still have my family up there in Amityville, Westbury, Babylon, everywhere."
At Owings Mills, just outside Baltimore, Smith was able to thrive.
He wound up being sort of the Tom Brady for the football team at Owings Mills High School, a player who made an immediate impact. They had a football team that hadn’t won a game in several years, and when the huge Smith walked in the door — filled the door, really — everyone had a sense their fortunes were about to change.
"We chipped away," Smith said. "Got first win, second, third. Over the years they’ve been doing a great job developing the guys and becoming a program that is playing ball and winning games."
Smith’s fortune changed, too.
"A good school, a lot of good people in there," he said. "It definitely opened my eyes to a lot of different things coming from New York … New York it was fast-paced, the way people move, the whole mentality was different. Coming down to Baltimore I almost felt like I was in a shell. I was peeping everything, just observing. But I met so many people, all different walks of life. They shared things and experiences with me and it allowed me to see things differently.
"My uncle took me and my twin sister in and paved the way for us and we took advantage of it."
Smith does a lot of work to give back in that regard. He is one of the more active players on a team that has flexed its community service and social justice muscle quite a bit this past year in particular. He even goes back to Maryland and talks with kids at the schools where he attended.
"I always wished that when I was younger we had people who were successful and came through the schools and talked to students and stuff like that to give them a nudge that, ‘You can make it out of here, you can go be something from this place,’" he said. "Just kind of give them that extra motivation."
Smith, in his sixth NFL season, is making his first postseason appearance. It was something he foretold about a year ago.
"All my friends will tell you I had a feeling Tommy was going to come here way before anything happened," he said of Brady’s departure from the Patriots and acquisition by the Bucs. "When it did happen, I just like to speak things into existence and I said: ‘We’re going to go to the Bowl.’ That’s where we’re at."
Smith said he does not feel any extra pressure protecting the greatest quarterback of all time. Their relationship seems to be solid, too.
"We be chillin’" he said with a smile.
Now he is one game away from being a Super Bowl champion.
"To me it would mean the world," he said. "Coming from where we are with the pandemic, it was a weird year. I had my daughter born this year [six months ago]. But to be able to cap off the year with a Super Bowl win, it makes it all worth it. To be able to go out and celebrate that with the guys you work with every day … it is definitely something at the end of the tunnel we all want to get to and experience. It would be great to hoist that trophy up come Sunday."
For his fans in Tampa, his fans in State College, his fans in Owings Mills.. but also for his family and friends on Long Island.
Shouting out to all of those populations on Thursday, he said: "We here."