Jack Smith of Mt. Lebanon earned his spot among the annals of his family’s athletic history when he emulated his father and uncles by winning a WPIAL football championship.
Blue Devils coach Bob Palko predicts Smith’s family members just might have more to celebrate in the coming weeks.
If Mt. Lebanon continues its gridiron journey, the Blue Devils may be competing for the school’s first PIAA title Dec. 10 in Hershey.
Lebo defeated Central Catholic, 47-7, Nov. 2 in the WPIAL Class 6A final, which also doubled as the first round of the state playoffs. It was the Blue Devils’ seventh WPIAL championship.
Jack Smith’s uncles Dan Smith and Mark Hart led Lebo to back-to-back WPIAL titles in 1980 and 1981. Uncle Bobby and Smith’s father, Dr. Patrick Smith, helped the Blue Devils capture titles in 1983 and 1984. Lebo also claimed championships in 1966 and 2000.
“It’s awesome to be in the circle. Obviously expectations are high (in the family),” said Jack, who is the son of Georgia Smith.
“I look to my dad and my uncles as role models. Now I feel like I accomplished something and have made them proud.”
The clan has a proud history of sports in Mt. Lebanon and beyond.
All of Jack Smith’s uncles earned Division I scholarships. His uncle Dan went to the University of Virginia, while Hart attended West Virginia, Bobby attended the U.S. Naval Academy, Patrick matriculated to Villanova and Matt was a student at Stanford.
Smith’s grandfather, James L. Smith, played professional baseball for the Chicago White Sox.
Uncle Jim was signed as a free agent with the Steelers in 1982.
Smith’s cousins, Aileen and Leah, swam at Columbia and UVA. Leah won gold and bronze medals in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Another cousin, Josh Casilli from Peters Township, is currently playing football at Penn. His older sister, Patrice, runs track at Columbia.
“There’s no pressure,” said Smith of contending with such legacies. “It’s good inspiration.”
At Mt. Lebanon, Smith is a three-sport athlete like his Uncle Matt, who was The Almanac Player of the Decade. Unlike Matt, a safety, Smith plays linebacker like his father. Both Matt and Patrick have influenced Smith and his play has contributed to Lebo being one of the top defensive teams in the state. The Blue Devils have allowed just 113 points — 9.4 per game — while compiling a 12-0 record.
“I actually watch film with my dad. He’s gives me pointers against the guys I will be going against,” Smith said. “My uncle Matt, he played safety and was really good. He’s helped me with coverage and also tips on what to do. So it’s all good.”
Four years ago, things were really great for Smith. He quarterbacked the Mt. Lebanon freshman team. When Palko was hired in February of his sophomore year, Smith made the transition to tight end on offense.
“Whatever the team needs I was going to do,” Smith said.
“At first, maybe it was hard to buy into but I felt once I was all in, it made it 100 times more fun. It took some maturing to understand that everything that I do is going to be for the team. I can’t be thinking about me and what I’m doing. Anything I can do for the team,” he added.
According to Palko, Smith exemplified the player necessary to execute his plan of bringing a WPIAL football championship back to Mt. Lebanon.
“I am so proud of Jack,” Palko said. “All that I ever saw since I met him was his goal of winning a WPIAL championship and doing what’s best for the team. It’s magical when you can get kids to set aside all their selfishness, play for each other and strive for a common goal.”
Smith’s long-term agenda includes a Major League Baseball career. He will play baseball at Harvard, which has produced 19 major leaguers.
“I definitely love football and I think it’s going to be hard not to play anymore but I think I made the right decision,” he said. “I love baseball, too and I have aspirations of pitching at the next level. I have a bright future and potential.”
Lebo baseball coach Patt McCloskey agrees with that assessment. He recognized Smith’s abilities when he assisted Jeff Donati in coaching Lebo’s 13-year-old travel team.
“Even at that age, Jack immediately stood out for his competitive drive and his baseball IQ,” McCloskey said. “He did so many things so well at a young age that it was pretty easy to see that he would be a kid who had a chance to go on to the next level. We just didn’t know whether it would be as a pitcher or as a hitter.”
During an injury-riddled spring, Smith started at third base for the Blue Devils. He batted .306 with four RBI as Lebo posted an 11-8 record and qualified for the WPIAL playoffs.
In the summer, Smith excelled for the Steel City Wildcats. He batted .423 with nine doubles and 26 RBI. He owned an 8-6 record on the mound with a 1.80 ERA. He struck out 51 batters in 35 innings.
Because he is 6-3 and weighs 215 pounds, Smith is ahead of the curve for incoming freshmen. Hence McCloskey predicts early success for Smith at Harvard.
“Jack’s so physically developed and he’s pretty polished,” McCloskey said. “I would anticipate he will have an opportunity to contribute right away.
“In baseball the most important skill you can possess is your ability to compete,” he continued. “What it ultimately comes down to in competitive baseball is that nobody cares what your (velocity) or spin rate are in a bullpen session, rather it’s what you do when you are under pressure and facing adversity while playing in a game where the only objective is to win that game. I have seen Jack compete over the last three years at the varsity level when winning matters, and he has been able to maximize his ability and help us win games.”
Smith has the ability to juggle many things. In addition to football and baseball, he plays on the varsity basketball team while balancing an academic schedule featuring all honors and AP classes.
“While Jack made a tremendous impression on me at a young age regarding how much winning matters to him and how good he is at competing, his acceptance academically by Harvard is a testament to all of the hours of hard work he has put into his schoolwork and his ability to balance three different varsity sports,” McCloskey said.
“Jack’s really fun to be around and a joy to coach. Most important, he’s great with his teammates.”