Smith brings talent and humility to Tufts
Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 03:09
For the past three years, a staple of the Tufts men’s soccer team has been its strong recruiting classes, which have made an immediate impact on the pitch. Two years ago, it was the dynamic duo of now-junior forwards Maxime Hoppenot and Gus Santos, who combined to score 13 goals their rookie seasons to go along with Santos’ NESCAC Rookie of the Year award.
Last year, it was the depth of the freshman class that helped the Jumbos make the NCAA tournament for the first time in recent memory. Four rookies saw time in at least 10 games, with defender Connor Schaible starting 13 games and midfielder Jason Kayne playing big minutes in 16 of Tufts’ 17 games.
This year, rookie sensation keeper Scott Greenwood has been garnering all of the early season headlines, allowing only one goal and posting three shutouts in his first five games.
Now, a non-freshman member of the incoming class is also making a big impact: sophomore Talmon Smith.
Smith, who usually goes by Tal, transferred from Howard University after his freshman year and has provided a spark for the Jumbos off the bench. Heading into Tuesday’s match at Plymouth State, he was second on the team in goals (3) and points (7).
For Smith though, the path to Tufts has not been a simple one.
Smith, unlike the rest of his team, did not begin his collegiate career in the brown and blue. Instead, as a member of the class of 2016, Smith committed to Howard University, a Div. I school in Washington, D.C.
“I decided on Howard late in the spring of senior year,” Smith said. “I took a while to decide between schools, based on financial aid, scholarships, academics and athletics.”
For Smith, who has a brother in the D.C. area, the combination of family support, a full scholarship and a rich athletic and cultural history at Howard eventually swayed him to the nation’s capital.
However, his freshman year on the field was not as he had imagined.
“Our first year, we struggled,” Smith explained. “The program has a long and rich history ... It was sad to see that program has been deteriorating recently.”
Smith got the chance to start as a freshman, but the team lost its first six games.
“What I wanted to see out of our program is not what the head coach had in mind,” he said.
After a disappointing start to his career at Howard and an uneasy relationship with his coach, Smith made the difficult decision to transfer. Although the forward looked at a variety of schools, he was able to narrow his choices down to two schools on opposite ends of the country: the University of San Francisco and Tufts.
“It came down to a decision between a D-I and a D-III school,” Smith said. “But I thought the level [of play] here in the NESCAC was so great, and [head coach Josh] Shapiro has been doing great things with the team, that I became more and more impressed with the school the more research I did.”
One of the factors that swayed Smith toward Tufts was his relationship with Shapiro. Shapiro, who has brought an extensive recruiting network to the soccer program at Tufts, met Smith back in high school at a soccer camp when Shapiro was still working as an assistant coach for Georgetown.
“I got to talk to his [high school] coach, who liked him a lot, and liked him as a kid,” Shapiro said. “We knew he would have some D-I opportunities ... and at the time he wanted to play D-I. Ultimately, I think he realized that wasn’t the right choice for him, and that’s when he came back into the conversation.”
While the decision was hardly a no-brainer, the athletic striker seems happy with his choice. After his first five games in the NESCAC, he does not find the level of play to be any less challenging or exciting.
“To be fair, I think there is a difference in athleticism, but the IQ of the players and how the game is being played is maintained,” Smith said. “I think some teams, including Tufts, play the game better than many Division I teams, so it’s something I’ve immediately become proud of.”
Another benefit of Smith transferring to a Div. III school is that he does not have to endure the NCAA rigmarole of transferring and sitting out a year. Instead, he’s been able to play right away, which has been a boon for both Smith and the Jumbos.
Becoming a Jumbo
Although Smith officially became a member of the team with the completion of the transfer process, he still had a long way to go before he could truly call himself a Jumbo. However, it did not take long for the transfer to fit in with a welcoming team.
“We really just tried to bring him in and help him understand what it is that we do and what it is that coach [Shapiro] wants from him, and he really took that to heart,” Hoppenot said.
“The upperclassmen do a really good job of talking to the young players over the summer,” Shapiro added. “They explain what the expectations are and what it might be like. I think [Hoppenot] was responsible for talking to Talmon, and he was getting excited and getting Talmon excited about our team and its ability to play fast and threaten teams with pace and athleticism.”
Smith credited the returning players for helping ease his transition.