If there is one lesson 18-year-old A.J. Smith has already learned, it is that attitude is everything.
“Life is full of good and bad things, but life will only get you down if you let it,” said the Sandpoint High School senior.
It was a lesson Smith learned from his mother, Norma Taylor, who died last year from pancreatic cancer. “My attitude towards life I learned from my mom,” he said.
It is that attitude that got Smith through his senior year, excelling both academically and athletically.
A.J., whose given name is Abinadi John, is the second of four children. An outstanding athlete, he played football all four years at Sandpoint and has played lacrosse since seventh grade.
Never afraid to try new things, Smith tried out for basketball for the first time this year and made varsity.
“I went from knowing nothing at all to going to someone they could count on to put in if need be,” said Smith, who had his best year academically this year with a 3.7 grade-point average. He encourages others to try new things. “Don’t wait until the last chance to take a chance to do something you might really enjoy.”
When Sandpoint made it to the state championship in football this year, Smith said it was one of the most exciting moments of his life.
That excitement is likely to continue. He will play football at University of Montana Western in the fall on a scholarship and was also offered a scholarship by Montana State University Northern – something he knows would make his mother proud.
The memories of his high school years will always be special. But not just for the reasons that most young people cherish those years. For Smith it will always bring back memories of times spent with his mother.
“She was the most encouraging person,” said Smith, who said his mom would make every game her health would allow. But when she couldn’t attend his mom was the first person he would call after a game.
“She’d never ask if we won or lost. She’d ask if I had fun.”
When she was reaching the end stages of her life, Smith and his mom would spend a lot of time talking.
“We would sit and talk about things we wouldn’t normally,” he said.
During the last few months of his mother’s life, Smith said he struggled with whether to quit the lacrosse team. He was worried about his mom, but his teammates and coach encouraged him to play so he stuck with it. The day after she died he had a game and made the decision to play what was the last game of the season.
“She always said she would make it to a game and she never was able to,” he said. “The game I played the day after she died, that was the last game. I guess she finally got to see me play.”
During his years at Sandpoint High School, Smith received several football honors including all state, all league and all North Idaho honors his junior year and all league and all North Idaho honors his senior year. It was after football season his junior year that his mom started expressing her desire to buy Smith a letterman’s jacket. But they are expensive – about $400 – and due to her illness, his mom was not able to work regularly.
He assured his mom he did not need it, but it was something she kept talking about. When Smith’s friend Mike Hubbard asked why he didn’t have a jacket, he confided in him that his mother had wanted to buy one but never got the chance. So the kids and their moms got together and surprised Smith with the gift his mom never got the chance to give him.
“Right before we went to the playoffs (senior year) I got my letterman,” he said. “It is definitely one of the nicest things anyone’s ever done for me.”