NFL pro Will Smith may be gone, but his legacy will forever live on.
Smith, a former defensive end for the New Orleans Saints and Super Bowl XLIV champion, was shot and killed at age 34 Saturday night following a three-car traffic collision. Following the tragic news, ET chatted with one of Smith's former football coaches, who shared his thoughts on the late football star's character, sportsmanship and the impacting legacy he left on the community where he was raised.
Before he was drafted to the Saints as the 18th pick in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft -- or made a name for himself while playing college football at the Ohio State University -- Smith was a standout athlete living and perfecting his skills in Upstate New York.
He attended and played football at Thomas R. Proctor High School in Utica, New York, where he was named two-time All-Mohawk Valley Football Player of the Year as a junior and senior. Jerry Fiorini was one of Smith's football coaches at Proctor, who told ET on Sunday that the athlete was -- and will forever remain -- a shining star in the school's athletic program.
"He was one of the best [football] players to come out of Proctor [High School]," Fiorni said. "He was a cornerstone of Proctor football. He was a great leader, great teammate, hard worker -- he was the hardest worker on the team. He was one of a lifetime. I don't know if there will ever be another Will Smith coming around Proctor, as far as the kind of player he was."
Smith was scheduled to appear at the Where There's a Will, There's a Way Foundation's Annual "Evening With the All-Stars" dinner in New Hartford, New York, on Thursday, April 14, which would have marked his eighth consecutive year as host of the event honoring star football players in the Mohawk Valley area of New York.
Fiorini told ET that Smith -- who was inducted into the Greater Utica Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 -- was proud of his roots, and "never hesitated to come back."
"Will was raised in Utica by his grandma," he explained. "He would come back [to town] and run football camps with me. And not only did he come back, but he'd bring players back from the Saints and [the Saints] coaching staff."
"No one ever had to pay, everything was free," Fiorini continued. "He never would charge anyone anything. He wanted to draw more attention to football in the area that he grew up in because he wanted to let everyone know that we have great football players in Upstate New York. That was the whole goal of his foundation -- to bring exposure to Mohawk Valley players. He would come back every year."
As ET previously reported, Smith was driving in New Orleans with his wife, Racquel, at the time of the accident. He was reportedly shot multiple times after exchanging words with the driver of the other vehicle. Smith was pronounced dead at the scene. His wife was shot twice in the right leg and taken to the hospital.
"On behalf of the Smith family, we are thankful for the outpouring of support and prayers," a statement from Smith's family posted on his official Facebook page on Sunday read. "We ask that you continue to respect the family's privacy as they grieve the loss of a devoted husband, father and friend."
ET also confirmed that 28-year-old Cardell Hayes has been charged with second-degree murder in Smith's death. The handgun used in the shooting has allegedly been recovered.