JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Boys are wired to dream of being the courageous hero. Firefighters, police men, pilots, knights, soldiers, professional athletes, and Superman all seem like perfectly viable career options during the boyhood dreams.
As maturity wraps its confusing tentacles around the desires of a young man, those visions can become sour and murky.
To continue on the gritty road of determination though, there surely lies the point in time when the intersection of sacrifice and pleasure rage war on the mind. Not everyone ends up at the dreamed upon destination. Jacksonville student-athlete Emon Smith is well on his way.
Smith, a sophomore safety on the 6-2 Dolphin football team, currently is enrolled in 17.5 credit hours, pursuing the challenging degree of Science of Aviation Management, and is active in the Naval ROTC program on-campus. The large study load comes from both the major and military requirements to maintain his scholarship. To say free time for Smith comes once in a blue moon would be an enormous understatement.
Wednesdays are the worst. The sophomore falls into bed at midnight and wakes up at 4:00 a.m. for PT, or physical training, which lasts until sometime between 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. After training, it's mandatory study hours at his unit. His first class, marketing, starts at 10 a.m. and is followed immediately by a Naval Science course. Thankfully, there's time for refuel for lunch before his 1 p.m. Aviation Science for Private Pilot class. More studying and maybe a quick nap to recharge his batteries typically follow before switching his focus to football with film meetings starting at 2:45 p.m., then practice, and a night spent in the library with more studying concludes a demanding day.
In a day like this, Smith turns to a powerful motivation. At age seven, when youngsters dream of being heroes, he lost one of his own. Smith's father passed away after a battle with Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS.
"It made me grow up fast. My dad is always looking out for me. He's an angel," said Smith.
"He held us to a high standard because he wanted the best for us in life. I'm constantly working hard to make him proud."
His support system also comes from his mother. He describes her as "a strong woman who has always been there for me", who raised Smith and his two brothers. Both sides, military and football, have been willing to work together on helping the student-athlete fulfill all of his responsibilities.
The support helps in Smith's mission to find some semblance of balance in his life's schedule. Thankfully, the game he plays is also one that he loves, and he uses away games to catch up on sleep. Smith did that in last week's trip to Dayton, while also taking time to appreciate the city's contribution to flight thanks to last semester's Aviation History class.
His dream is to be a pilot in the Navy. The combination of Jacksonville's success in football, enticing Aviation program, and NROTC made the school an easy choice. The goal after his time on the University Boulevard campus is to be stationed as an officer in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla., where his father served in the Navy. He even entertains the hope of serving on the Blue Angels.
"Maybe one day I can become one of those if I'm good enough," beamed Smith.
There's one angel who already knows he is.