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.”