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Folsom receiver Onterrio Smith Jr. carrying on legacy of Grant football legend

Son of local prep football legend hopes to win NorCal state title with Folsom
Son of local prep football legend hopes to win NorCal state title with Folsom 02:54

FOLSOM (CBS13) -- If his name wasn't enough to remind him, Onterrio Smith, Jr. knew from a young age he carried a legacy. 

"I played for the Grant Junior Pacers for most of my youth career and I always used to see his touchdown [plaques] and yards and was always reminded of how good he was," Smith, Jr. said of his father. 

Onterrio Smith, Sr. is a legend in Sacramento high school football history and was a part of a Grant Pacers team that has achieved near-mythical status over the years. His recruitment brought Tennessee head football coach Phil Fulmer, fresh off a national championship, to the gym of Grant just to watch Smith play basketball. Every program in the United States wanted a piece of the Parade All-American. Nearly 25 years later, his son is entering his own recruiting process and getting the freedom to do it his way.

"He never really made me feel like I had to play football, and even with me playing football, I never felt like I had to live up to his legacy," explained Smith, Jr. 

In fact, he finds some ways to make it worth his time and get a few jokes in on his dad. 

"I'll actually watch his highlights but I'll find the video where he fumbled and I'll show him like every other day," he joked.  

Smith, Jr. entered football early. At just four and a half years old he played in leagues of kids much older than himself and on the first day, got to learn about the sport the hard way. 

"His name was Pancho," Smith, Jr. remembers. "He was a good friend of mine. And he rocked me." 

His Dad was his coach at the time and just had to let his son take the hit and find out for himself if football was what he wanted. 

" [I told him] you don't gotta play football especially because of me," Smith, Sr. said. "If you don't want to play football, you don't gotta play football. So do you wanna come back tomorrow? And with big tears in his eyes, he says 'yeah, yeah.' "

That reintroduction to football was a blessing to Onterrio, Sr., who walked away from the game after his NFL career ended. Like many who leave the sport and enter their post-playing career, he was adrift. 

"I was really just trying to find my way," he explained. "I wasn't even watching football no more."  

And then his son showed an interest in the game. It allowed Smith Sr. to reconnect with old friends and coaches. He took up coaching in the youth ranks and did his best to allow his son to follow his passions. Smith, Jr. played quarterback before moving to wide receiver when he entered high school. 

"I was on the phone with Marshawn Lynch the other night and he was like, 'Do he got any of you in him?' and I said, 'A little bit but he's got a different game,' " Smith, Sr. said. " I just let him be him. That's a lot for a kid."  

You can see the legacy in shades on the field. Smith, Jr. wears No. 2. 

"As a kid, it was a tribute to my dad," he said. 

But in recent years, the meaning of the number changed.

"Around 2020, my friend died, and we called him Deuce, and Deuce is the No. 2," Smith, Jr. explained. 

That passing was one of a number of people close to Smith, Jr. that passed away in the last four or so years, including grandparents on his mother and father's side, as well as some childhood friends. Then came a season-ending injury before the pandemic wiped out entire portions of his playing career. 

"Mental health is big, and for a minute there, I thought that we had lost him for a little bit because of everything that was going on," Smith, Sr. said of his son. 

"I almost quit," said Smith, Jr. "He was telling me I could quit for my mental [health], but I came back."

Now a senior, Smith Jr. has made highlight-worthy plays and amassed more than 500 receiving yards on a Folsom team that is a game away from the CIF Division 1-AA State Championship game. In the last year, he's received offers from Pac-12 schools like Utah and Oregon State. 

"All my coaches knew what I could do and they're letting me live it up," Smith, Jr. said.

As for his father, he gets to sit and watch his son from the stands. The love for the game he once had has fully returned and he sees it manifested every day his son suits up. 

"It's been an awesome ride seeing him mature from four and a half years old to being 18 years old," Smith, Sr. said of his son. "The feedback makes me blush because he's really a good kid and I know that. He helped me, more than me helping him."

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