From the nightmare scenario of being rejected as a young apprentice at Sunderland to the dream prospect of forging a promising career as a student at the world-renowned Harvard University; that’s the measure of how far Richard Smith has come in a short space of time.
Richard is currently studying biology, chemistry and economics in the USA with a view to pursuing a career in medicine.
Whilst, he has clearly gone down a very serious academic route, the fun side of life in America is playing college football to a good standard. He has quickly acquired hero status on that front too.
Harvard were crowned Ivy League champions in 2009, and Richard had the distinction of scoring the winning goal in the final game against Pennsylvania. “It really was one of the best feelings,” he says on reflection of his football career highlight to date.
“It was wonderful to be able to repay my Harvard coach for having so much faith in me and it was also nice to start my college career off with a league title. I have to admit that I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Richard is certainly in the right place at the moment, having quickly adapted to his new lifestyle, surroundings and college culture. He explains: “It was quite difficult being away from home for the first couple of weeks, but after I settled in I started to really enjoy myself and feel comfortable where I am.
“My first impressions of the university were very good. It has everything that I could ever wish for; sports facilities that could rival many Premiership teams, experienced and organised coaches, a great group of guys on the team - it really was exactly what I wanted.”
Richard is very much a forward-thinking young man with a positive and a clear vision of where he is heading. But he admits that, as a starry-eyed 18-year-old with a dream of becoming a professional footballer, his life was turned upside down when he was released by Sunderland.
“To say that I was crushed when I was released by Sunderland is an under-statement,” he recalls. “To have someone tell me I was not good enough was difficult for me to accept - especially something that I had invested so much time and effort into.
“Up until that point, I had always achieved relative success, both on the pitch and in the classroom. This was the very first time that I felt like I had failed at something.”
He has taken those experiences into the next phase of his life, and couldn’t be happier with the way his new career is taking shape. Having studied sports science and taken coaching qualifications during his scholarship years at Sunderland, Richard’s interests have extended to the world of biology and chemistry.
He admits that he owes a lot to his current status as a Harvard student to his former youth team coach Kevin Ball, the ex-Portsmouth and Sunderland defender. “It was Kevin who suggested I go to America, as he had played with the former Harvard football coach when professional at Portsmouth.
“I had never really considered going to America, but after a little research, it was clear that a top American University could offer me so much more than any British University. After two visits to Harvard, I was eventually told that I had been accepted to the university.”
Having played good standard college football in America, he still has half an eye on becoming a professional footballer, as originally planned, either back home in ‘Blighty’, or in his adopted country.
“Of course I would still love the opportunity to play professional football when I graduate – I don’t think that I could ever lose that boyhood dream. It is also quite nice in the States as college sports feeds directly into professional sport, so you have the safety of your university education to fall back on if professional sport doesn’t work out.
“The American experience has been fantastic so far. It is an amazing feeling to play football at a relatively high level, while achieving a great education alongside it. This is not to say that it has been in any way shape or form easy; it is probably the most challenging thing that I have ever done.”
Richard will always be grateful to the PFA for their help and guidance as he prepared for his American adventure, and don’t be surprised if he returns to England as a players’ union member and pro footballer when he graduates in 2013. This is one very determined young man.