It’s a conflict Jake Smith is happy to have.
While the rest of the Arizona Wildcats are checking into The Westin La Paloma tonight, Smith — a team’s starting kicker — will be away from the team.
With the blessing of coach Rich Rodriguez, Smith, who is Jewish, will be at the on-campus Hillel for Yom Kippur services.
The senior from Philadelphia will be observing the annual day of atonement. He won’t be alone: Smith is one of about 3,500 Jewish students at the UA.
Yom Kippur calls for all members of the Jewish religion to fast from sundown tonight to sundown Saturday.
Smith has always abided by the rules and fasted for the holiday. But, he’s also never had a football game that night.
So Smith is planning on bending the rules a tad on Saturday.
He’ll eat on Saturday and play in that night’s home game against UTSA. The sun should be fully down by kickoff, but even if isn’t, Smith will be there.
“I don’t have the clout of Sandy Koufax,” said Smith of the Jewish Hall of Fame pitcher, who famously sat out the first game of the 1965 World Series to observe the holiday. “I don’t have three other World Series games to make it up. I’m not going to fast, and I’m definitely going to play. I don’t think it’s a good idea to show up to the game on Saturday on an empty stomach.”
Given Smith’s long-awaited opportunity, it’s a good problem to have.
Smith began his career at Syracuse in 2009 but transferred to Youngstown State one season later. He spent one year playing for the Penguins before choosing Arizona.
Smith was forced to sit out the 2011 season and stay away from the team because it was his second transfer.
Then, he waited longer. Smith was competing to be Arizona’s starting kicker last season when he tore knee ligaments, an injury that cost him the entire season. The kicker recovered in time to compete for the job again in fall camp. He beat out Casey Skowron and was named the starter last month.
Smith missed his only field goal attempt in the season opener against NAU.
But against UNLV, things changed: Smith made the first field goal of his college career, a 41-yarder. He finished 3 for 4 on field goal attempts, hit all seven of his point-after tries and handled 11 kickoffs in the UA’s 58-13 win over the Rebels. His 16 total points was a single-game program record for a kicker.
Smith was named the Pac-12’s special teams player of the week on Monday.
“He’s worked really hard, coming back from injury and the trials and tribulations of sitting out from the transfers and all that,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been proud of the way Jake has responded. He’s established himself as the guy.”
Smith served as a game captain against UNLV and even managed to register a tackle — well, depending who you ask.
Smith got a hand on the Rebels’ Keith Whitely during the fourth quarter, bringing him down to the ground.
But when Smith’s UA teammates saw the picture of the tackle in Sunday’s Star, they laughed.
He did, too.
“I like to laugh at myself, so I think the picture is pretty funny,” Smith said. “It looks way worse that it does on film. In reality, I did stop him. If you watch film, I do tackle him. In the picture, it makes it look like he dragged me for 15 yards.
“I did a little more than that.”
Smith can handle the jokes. Heck, he’s just happy to have teammates and be back playing Division I football.
“This feels like where I was supposed to be the whole time,” Smith said. “I’m really happy to be where I am.”
And as for his knee, he said it’s strong but should continue to get stronger. Doctors told him it would be 18 months before he’s fully healed. He’s still less than 11 months removed from the injury.
“I anticipate to get better throughout the season,” Smiths said. “I think I’ll get stronger and stronger.”