FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) - The practice fields at Kentucky State University are not that far from Louisville’s Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, but in the realm of college football, they are a world away.
Former U of L head coach John L Smith traversed that course from Louisville to the brighter lights of Michigan State and SEC football in Arkansas and eventually back in Kentucky, as head coach of the NCAA Division II Kentucky State Thoroughbreds.
“(I) don’t need a job necessarily,” Smith said. “You need a job if you can make a difference. If you can make a difference to the school, make a difference to the kids, and make a difference to the state of Kentucky.”
Smith was named head coach at Kentucky State in December. He found a different dynamic than he found at some of his previous stops.
Smith has about 50 kids out for his second spring practice. His staff hopes to eventually have more than 100 on the roster.
There was no true off-season conditioning regimen in place. Not even a season-ticket program.
Smith is trying to change all that on the inside and develop Kentucky State’s reputation on the outside.
“It’s going to take a lot of work. It’s going to take work from our guys who are here, It’s going to take work out of the staff (to recruit more players), it’s going to take work out of the administration, out of the city of Frankfort, out of the state of Kentucky to get on board and help this program,” Smith said.
While Smith is trying to win the hearts and minds of people on the outside of the locker room, he won over an important player inside the locker room.
Junior quarterback Bo Johnson was looking to transfer after the season, until the school announced Smith would be the new head coach.
“As soon as I heard that, I cut all ties (with other schools),” said Johnson. “It’s great feeling to feel like we’re building a program around here.”
It’s a program that finished 3-7 last season and last had a winning season in 2011.
The pressure on the 67-year-old Smith to turn it around here is hardly like the pressure he faced at some of his previous stops. But he says he puts the pressure on himself and his staff to improve the culture and allow a man who grew up in Idaho to do something good in his adopted home state.
“I’ve got more friends here than I have out in Idaho. The fact that our kids are here is important, our grandkids are here,” Smith said. He kept a home in Kentucky and lives in Shelbyville.
“(It’s) an opportunity to come back and hopefully make a difference at a school that at this point maybe needs a little helping hand.”
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