Jets’ Geno Smith had to pick: art or football?

Geno Smith’s brothers still have his favorite piece of artwork
hanging on the wall of their mother’s home.

It could be worth a pretty penny someday. For now, its value is
solely sentimental.

When the New York Jets rookie quarterback was in high school, he
grabbed a huge sheet of poster board, broke out a few Sharpie
markers and got to work on drawing his favorite superheroes. One by
one – and making sure he captured every detail – Batman, Superman,
Wolverine, Captain America and Spider-Man, among others, appeared
to his brothers’ amazement.

”Art is something I really love,” Smith said. ”I have a
creative mind.”

Smith is locked in a tight competition with Mark Sanchez for the
Jets’ starting quarterback job. But the rookie wasn’t always just a
star on the football field. Before he went to high school in south
Florida, Smith had to make a choice between throwing touchdowns and
painting pictures.

”I had a passion for them both,” Smith said in an interview
with The Associated Press after practice Wednesday. ”But I enjoy
the passion for being out on the field and being with my teammates
and constantly practicing and conditioning, all the challenges that
come with playing football.”

Smith paused for a second, and then started laughing.

”And, in art,” he said, ”you really don’t get famous until
you’re dead.”

He already has the fame stuff down, especially after a
record-breaking career at West Virginia University. Smith was
perhaps the biggest name available in the draft in April, but
slipped from the first to the second round – and the frowns from
his disappointment were caught on camera at Radio City Music
Hall.

He also made headlines when he fired his agents and signed on
with hip-hop artist Jay-Z’s sports agency. Smith raised some
eyebrows again when he opted to work out on his own in Florida
rather than attend Sanchez’s Jets West camp in southern
California.

It’s the kind of tumultuous few months that can create some
pretty interesting and introspective artwork.

”I don’t draw as much anymore, but I still doodle, yeah, in my
notepads,” Smith said. ”I caught myself just drawing a picture
the other day and it said, `Practice Better.’ That was kind of a
message to myself.”

The love for art began as a little kid, when he saw his sister,
Kiyondra Talley, drawing things he could only dream of.

”She was kind of like a prodigy,” Smith said. ”She could
paint anything and it would look spot on. I wasn’t really that
good, to be honest with you. I was a couple of years younger than
her, and it made me kind of mad that she was so good.

”I took it upon myself to try to be better than her, so I just
developed a love for it.”

He and his buddies started small, with cartoon characters such
as Mickey Mouse and Dragon Ball Z. Around fourth or fifth grade,
Smith began trying to draw portraits of family members.

”I’d just take pictures in my house and sit down for hours upon
hours and just draw them,” he said. ”I’d ball up papers and throw
them away until I got the right one.”

Tracey Sellers, Smith’s mother, recognized her son was talented
in the classroom – at art and academics – and placed him in gifted
programs. He was so advanced, it was recommended he be moved up a
few grades. But Sellers wanted him to stay with his peers and not
move through school too quickly.

”I think I have a creative mind from all the psychological
tests I’ve taken and all that kind of stuff,” he said. ”I’m a
creative thinker, and that’s helped me out tremendously growing
up.”

He received a scholarship to Norland Middle School’s magnet art
program, which he attended from the sixth through eighth grades.
While there, he mastered using pretty much anything he could put to
paper: pencil, pen, charcoal pens, charcoal sticks, acrylic pens,
watercolors and acrylic paints.

While still playing football and trying to balance it with
homework and artwork, Smith put together an impressive portfolio
and submitted it to two art schools in New York and two others in
the Miami area.

He was accepted by all four.

”Right then and there, I had a decision to make whether it was
art or sports,” Smith said. ”Obviously, I chose the latter.”

Smith became a huge football star at Miramar High, capping his
career there by leading the team as a senior to the state 6A
semifinals. He then chose to attend West Virginia after also
receiving offers from other big-time programs such as Alabama,
Boston College, Florida State and South Florida.

With the Mountaineers, Smith established himself as one of the
best quarterbacks in the country with an eye-popping mix of skill
and athleticism. He set various school records along the way, and
had NFL teams drooling at the prospect of him being a part of their
future.

And Smith, who recently told the team’s website he’d like to
emulate Michael Jordan in terms of his success and leadership,
attributes a lot of his success on the field to his art
background.

”It really made me pay attention to detail,” he said. ”That’s
something that’s huge. It still helps me to this day because I can
see things on the field: angles, geometrics, and I think that
played a huge role in things with football.”

A few days ago, the Jets were practicing at SUNY Cortland when
quarterbacks coach David Lee told a few of the players to stop and
look around at their surroundings. It took Smith back to his youth
for a moment as he stared out at the green hills and trees
outlining the campus.

”That’s usually what artists will paint,” Smith said.
”They’ll take pictures of stuff like that or just sit down right
there and paint it and it’ll become a great painting. It was a
great reminder to me that every single thing we look at every day
is tied into art.

”That’s what’s unique about it.”

He stays low key about his affection for art, and frankly
doesn’t have much time for it these days. Not when he’s trying to
win the starting quarterback job with the Jets.

”I’m pretty sure these guys have heard about it, but I don’t
think they really care much,” Smith said with a big smile.
”That’s really not for the cool kids, you know? The guys around
here are the cool kids. Art is for the so-called nerds, and I’m one
of those guys.

”But I love playing football and I love being a
quarterback.

”I look at this as my art now.”