Monday, December 28, 2009

What happened to Onterrio Smith?

Countless people have asked me "What happened to Onterrio Smith?".

I have heard every "Wizzinator" joke possible. They were funny to so many people, but not to me. Onterrio was my college roommate, good friend, and one of the most talented football players I have ever seen. Now, he is a legend in Sacramento High School football, and infamous for his fall from grace. His is a story we have heard many times, but its different because he is MY friend; star athlete with everything it takes to be a professional athlete falls victim to violence, drugs, or tragedy.

If you ever wonder what football coaches dream about I'll tell you. They dream about players who are fast, powerful, elusive, strong, hard-working, tough, quick, mentally strong, with great hands, understands the game, leader, and a passion for being the best. They dream about Onterrio Smith. He was the best running back in the 2003 draft (even better than Willis McGahee), but slipped from a high 1st round pick to the 4th round because of "character issues" stemming from drug use. Mike Tice, former Minnesota Vikings head coach and current assistant coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, said Onterrio was the best running back he had ever coached, and that he could have been great. That is high praise coming from a man who played in the NFL for 14 years and has coached for longer than that.

Onterrio came from a broken home in the projects of Sacramento to be a football star at Grant High School. After an illustrious High School career he accepted a scholarship to attend the University of Tennessee. It was clear from his first day at school that he was a star both socially and on the field. The Volunteer fans only got to witness his amazing abilities for one season before he was kicked out for marijuana use.

Onterrio then transferred to the University of Oregon where we met. From the moment everyone met him they fell in love with his magnetic personality. "O- Smith" would light up the room with his smile. He is one of the most likable, giving, caring, and charismatic people I have ever met, and quickly became a loyal and trusted friend. His fall hurts me so much because I know how he grew up. I know his family, his kids, and his story.

I remember the day I realized everything had changed like it was yesterday. Onterrio returned home after being gone for 3 days wearing the same clothes he left in. That same day I got a phone call asking if he was ok because the night before he had been waking up in cold sweats. Something about those events and his behavior just didn't sit well will me, so I asked both 'Terrio (as we called him) and our other roommate about it. They both told me I was trippin', but in my heart I knew I wasn't. Ladies and Gentlemen, that was the beginning of the end.

Addiction has no socio-economic or cultural bias. It can happen to any family. It can happen to people who may seem to be on the top of the world and have everything to live for. Darryl Strawberry, Stanley Wilson Sr., Ken Caminiti, Michael Irvin, Eddie Griffin, and Len Bias are a short list of athletes who have been victims of addiction. O-Smith, who had the potential to be one of the best running backs in the NFL, is another sad example of how drugs can ruin a life and career.

I watch a show on A&E called Intervention, which is a video documentary about addicts and their struggle with addiction. A camera crew follows alcoholics, drug addicts, and people with OCD, eating disorders, and other addictions. Those featured on the show do not know that they will soon face an intervention by their family. After the intervention, the addicts must either elect to enter a treatment facility immediately, or face alienation from those they love. It is a great show but it's very sad to see how addiction affects not only the addict, but the toll it takes on their families and loved ones as well. Addiction has struck in my own family, but somehow Onterrio's struggle hurts worse because unlike my family, I witnessed it happening. I talked to him, prayed for him, and helped him through rehab, but it feels like I failed. One thing I learned from this is for an addict to get clean he or she has to want to do it more than anything else in the world.

No one wants to be a drug addict. People like using drugs and alcohol because of the feeling they get from it or to escape their problems, but no one wants to be like the people on Intervention. Those featured on the show are at rock bottom or near it. When people begin using drugs they never think they will end up meth, ecstasy, crack, heroine, cocaine, prescription pill or alcohol addicts. After watching Intervention, seeing famous people fall victim to addiction, and watching my friend's life and career tailspin out of control, I have but one thing to say: Just say no!!! However cliche it may sound, fact is that making one bad decision can shatter your dreams, ruin your life, and/or kill you.

One day I hope I can update this story with one of triumph, redemption, and recovery.


  1. This is hands-down the best post you've ever written.

  2. Thanks for the heart-felt post. I enjoyed watching Onterrio at Autzen. I hope he finds peace and happiness in his life.

  3. I agree with you. Many times people see pro athletes tumble down and they laugh at their failure.

    It would be sad for a camera to follow these same people around parading their misfortunes.

    Onterrio Smith was an All Pro Running Back and it pisses me off when people joke around on him as well because he was a Duck that was becoming a force in the league.

    He is not the first and we both know that there are many pro ballers that are doing more than alcohol and marijuana and still balling on Sundays.

    The NFL is a compay with employees just like any other Fortune 500 company.

    And its employees are human.

    You are right, addiction does not dismiss you when you put on your cleats.

    The best ballers are walking the streets because football is all they knew how to do.

    Onterrio Smith will be successful because he has star power wherever he goes.

    Be it good or bad.

    Star power is a double edge sword.

    We can only believe that he will follow the light.

    Good to see another DUCK using the his start power to spread knowledge homie.


    Jaiya Figueras
    Oregon Football (1993-1998) The Pre-Moshafsky Big Time Phase"

  4. I was at Oregon the same time you were and spent many afternoons smoking pot with O and playing NCAA Football (where he'd run every play to himself and still regularly beat many of us).

    His situation is very unfortunate and regularly makes me realize how lucky I am to not have the same addictive personality traits that O unfortunately has/had. I think about him often and hope for his sake, and the sake of his children that he will have the strength to turn his situation into a positive somehow.

    Thanks for the blog!

  5. So nice to find this blog (from a link on RM's football blog at the RG). I hope OS can still get his act together and find success. It was exciting to watch him at Oregon. Exciting watching all you Duck players!
    A Daisy Duck

  6. Onterrio needs everyone's prayers, for he has seen many a blessing. A lot of people had high hopes and expectations for him and he proved to be a real "superstar" but without familial and community support (hey team, could you help a negro out!), what chance does he have to overcome his addiction? And if the underlying issue is really depression (scary-word), then an addiction is a good cover-up and needs to be dealt with appropriately (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills). Oh wait, black folks don't like therapy because it makes us seem "crazy." Him and his family are in my prayers.

  7. Enjoyed the post George - It sure seems like you have your head screwed on straight. I have watched Smith show his potential with the Vikes, become a laughingstock, and then try to salvage things in the CFL with no luck.

    Interesting how basic patterns of behavior that can be established early in life can make all the difference in someone's life.

    As a Duck alum I follow all of you guys. I love it watching how you, JStew, DWill, DanteR, Mo Morris (now I have a reason to watch LIONS games) and Olshansky now in Dallas? -- anyway, it wasn't long ago there were just a couple of Ducks in the pros. You need to know you got a lot us fans out here.

    Jim Dorst

  8. Nice job GW! Best of luck this upcoming season.

    Go Ducks!

  9. I think people take Ontario's situation lightly because his addiction was to pot, and many have the belief that you can't become addicted to pot and it is a relatively safe drug compared to the obvious that you mentioned and even safer than alcohol. Addiction is addiction weather it's crack, food or sex, it should never be taken lightly.

  10. First of all, I wish Onterrio all the best, and hope he NEVER takes any of those drugs ever again. You are so right George. Drugs can effect anybody. I have seen people from poor to rich be addicted to drugs. I have had a friend and a relative on hard core drugs. They went to so many treatment centers so many times only to go right back into this horrible lifestyle and incredible addiction of drugs. I am happy to say they are both doing well right now, and hopefully they will NEVER take any of these drugs ever again.

    Now to a different side of drug addictions that most people have their heads in the sand about. That would be prescription drugs. It is such an epidemic in this country on how many people are addicted to prescription drugs. I have NEVER been addicted to any drugs of any kind. But, I can tell you how my neuroligists, and so many of my other doctors have pushed taking drugs down my throat. I have a neurological condition called dystonia. Most people have never heard if this disease. For more info go to I can tell you I am on an a physical and emotional roller coaster ride from my dystonia condition. These doctors nearly killed me from the prescription drugs they had me take. I never got addicted to these drugs. But, I can tell you so many people are addicted to these drugs and so many other prescription drugs. My problems were the horrible side effects from these drugs. The side effects were actually worse than my condition. I refuse to take any medications anymore. I went through absolute HELL!!!! I would not want anybody to go through what I went through while on these prescription drugs. I can tell you that nobody should have to go through something so horrible. So, my advise to everyone reading this is while prescription drugs can be helpful to people, please be careful what kind of drugs and medicine your doctors give you. So many doctors just want to shove these medications right down you throat no matter what side effects they might give you. Not to mention the possible addiction to these prescription drugs. Even when they do not help, so many doctors will just hand out another medication for you to take. This can be more fatal than hardcore street drugs. It is so easy to get addicted when your desperate to feel better. I have had relatives get addicted to prescription drugs. Also, be careful of the side effects. They can be life threatening. I NEVER want to go through something this horrific again!!!!

    Look at how many athletes get addicted to painkillers and other kinds of drugs when they get injured, and trying to get back on the football or baseball field, basketball court, track, ice, MMA or wrestling ring. George, I would love to hear your thoughts about athletes being addicted to painkillers, and other drugs and medications that doctors prescribe when they get injured so that they can get back on the field.

    The bottom line is just say no!!!!


  11. George,
    Great post filled with empathy and concern for a teammate (once a Duck, always a Duck). Thanks for shedding light on Onterrio's situation. Our hearts & prayers go out to him. Keep catching those balls for TD's, George. We miss seeing you at Autzen. Go Ducks!

  12. Just found this blog, great read and great to see another Duck doing great things!

  13. Great post... as someone with a counseling background, I agree with you here.

  14. A very heartfelt post, which I respect greatly.

    However, a lot of successful people use marijuana (including professional athletes and olympians) and I would hazard to guess that Onterrio's problems are much deeper than smoking pot. Often drug/alcohol use are only the symptoms of a greater underlying issue.

    I hope he can straighten himself out before it's too late.

  15. The addictive character of marijuana is generally underestimated. I have a son a couple years younger than O who has been in drug treatment solely due to marijuana use. It has severely affected his life since he was a sophomore in high school. Those who believe it is a benign substance should go through what my son, his mother, and I have encountered ss a result of his use. Then, after walking in our shoes render a judgement as to how safe, recreational, and low risk, you believe it is. O made choices earlier in his life, but marijuana compromised his judgement as his life continued. There is little humor in what he has gone through.

  16. I have just read this article and it hits you in the heart when a person with so much going for him does not recognize that what he is doing, is destroying their life. I have a son who will be attending oregon next fall to play football for the Ducks, I also read the article to him to let him know what types of situations he will most likely see when he arrives on campus. I only prey that he is strong enough not to let negative influences change the path of gratness. For you past Duck alumini please take the time to reach out the current ducks so that they do see positive role models that want them to suceed in life,

  17. Pot is the devil. People think they can do it cuz its just pot. Pot does 2 things. It makes you happy when you do it and makes you unhappy when you don't do it. I know "a friend" who used to do it. He knew the downside, but still did it. After some time, the upside was no longer that good. That is why he stopped, not because of "will power". People like "O" can't stop cuz the high is still oh-so-good.

    The best and only way to not fall into that trap is to never try it.

    Anyone who says pot is not dangerous is a LIAR, a SCUMBAG, and is probably also a pot addict who wants company in a sick way - much like how aids people want others to catch aids.

    I hope "O" can beat this addiction.

  18. The NFL shouldn't even test for Marijuana. It is not a performance-enhancing drug.

  19. I still remember his 285 yard performance at WSU in 2001 after our loss to Stanford. That was one of the greatest performances I have ever witnessed. I hope that he can recover from this and be happy- Ducks look out for each other always!

  20. I really enjoyed this post. When I was working at Oregon, Onterrio was always one of the nicest players to be around. He was always smiling and despite how great he was, he never showed any ego. His struggles have always made me sad because he deserves better. I hope he will turn it around and live a happy, productive life.

  21. George, thank you for a wonderful story and perspective. I certainly enjoyed your career at UO and miss seeing you while you whoop up on the east coast. That said, I can relate to your story about Onterrio, and I certainly hoped for the best upon his arrival at UO--as you know, we all did. I hope, like you, that you'll have a better update on your friend in the future. Best of luck to you and family and of course, Go Ducks!

  22. GW,
    Thank you! All that you have said shows the love for your friend and the kindness you have for him. I hope the best for O Smith! My husband and I were having a discussion about the "O" hands we all hold up at Autzen. We thought that this had started with Onterrio. My first experience with football was shortly before that and now I am a long time, dedicated, Duck fan. I don't remember the "O" hands much before Onterrio so it seems right. Do you know if that started with O. Smith?

  23. This post makes me proud to be a Duck. thanks GW. Miss the hurdles.

  24. I went to grant and played football there and o smith and donte stalworth are legends there when I tell people I went to grant they always talk about o smith as if I knew him even though he went there 6 years before me