Chad Smith may have been Sayville High School’s star quarterback in 1972, but there were times when he asked the mostly anonymous offensive linemen what play he should call in the huddle. “He had enough respect for the linemen that he would ask them, ‘What do you think will work?’ You don’t think we’d run through a wall for a guy like that?” said Smith’s longtime friend and former high school teammate John Fucarino.
“He was a unique star, a hesitant star. He didn’t care about awards. He just wanted to win and he enjoyed being in a competition alongside his friends. He was the most humble person you could ever meet. He was selfless,” Fucarino said of Smith, the 1972 Hansen Award winner as Suffolk County’s most outstanding football player.
Smith died Thursday. The Bayport resident was 61.
Smith passed for 1,576 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing 63 percent of his passes in his senior season of 1972. He was recruited by Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who visited him at Sayville High School.
“College coaches would come in all the time and we’d say, ‘Why didn’t you tell us?’ said Fucarino, an offensive tackle and linebacker for Sayville at the time. “That wasn’t Chad’s style. He didn’t name-drop. But I saw Paterno myself that day because he walked through the gym with an assistant coach. Chad was a good athlete who would do anything to win. He played so hard. He would sometimes pitch the football and then go downfield and make blocks.”
Smith accepted a scholarship to Penn State, but was stuck on the depth chart behind several other quarterbacks and did not get into any games. He developed an interest in flying and asked Paterno about transferring to Purdue, which had a highly regarded aviation program. “Joe Paterno was wonderful to Chad,” said Smith’s sister, Deborah Molinari-Emery. “He encouraged Chad to fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot. He helped him get into Purdue.”
A shoulder injury in practice ended his chances of playing football at Purdue, but that wasn’t Smith’s ultimate goal. Smith eventually became a captain for American Airlines, where he flew for 26 years and was a president of the pilots’ union. In retirement, Smith was active in promoting the organization Youthire, which encourages youth employment with local communities. “I was told by several people at American Airlines that Chad was known as ‘a good stick,’ which is what they say about respected pilots,” Fucarino said.
Charles T. (Chad) Smith was born on April 26, 1955, in Staten Island. In addition to playing football at Sayville, he was class president for all four years of high school. “He was a good football player and he was a good leader,” Fucarino said. “He never blamed anyone and he never made excuses.”
Molinari said Smith “never let any of that fame he got from football go to his head. He was generous, kind and loving. He was the rock of our family for years.”
A longtime Sayville sports fan, Mike Kelley, reached out to Smith earlier this month when Jack Coan became the second Sayville player to win the Hansen Award on Dec. 5. That night, Smith texted Kelley, “Awesome!!! So happy for him. We are 2 pretty elite players at SHS with that hardware.”
Said Fucarino, who befriended Smith when both were 10 years old, “He made you happy that you knew him.”
In addition to Molinari-Emery and her husband, Larry, Smith is survived by another sister, Tracee Jasuta and her husband Robert, his wife Gloria (Bevilacque) Smith and first wife Anita (Dickinson) Smith.
A memorial celebration of Smith’s life will be held at Raynor and D’Andrea Funeral Home in West Sayville on Jan. 14, from 2 to 5 p.m.