MADISON—One can only guess what is running through Dwayne Smith’s thoughts right now. Has it sunk in that he cannot play football again? Can he focus his mind on anything else?
During Wisconsin’s media day, Aug. 11, Smith said, “What I’m focused on right now is football. I’m here at camp and going in to have a good camp.”
Smith had every reason to expect to have a good fall camp. He was coming off a great spring season, despite missing five practices due to suspension. A powerful runner with solid speed and explosion, Smith earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors a year ago after running for a team-leading 857 yards and nine touchdowns.
Football, Smith said during media day, was a refuge. It was a refuge he needed while facing second-degree sexual assault charges. Smith was arrested in February, accused of raping a 19-year old woman in an apartment in downtown Madison. Smith, 20, has denied the allegations, saying the sex was consensual. A trial date was initially set for Sept. 1 but has since been delayed indefinitely. Smith’s attorney has filed motions asking for the case to be dismissed.
Now, however, his refuge has changed. It has not disappeared. “He’ll be a student coach,” Alvarez said. “We’ll keep him involved in the program.” Smith, though, will not play football again.
In a prepared statement, Alvarez announced early Thursday afternoon that Smith has been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, a heart condition generally characterized by enlargement of the heart muscle and a thickening of the walls of the left ventricle. In the same statement, Smith and his family declined comment and requested that the media not contact them.
“This condition is associated with sudden death (syndrome),” Wisconsin team physician Dr. Greg Landry said.
Landry and Alvarez spoke with reporters following Wisconsin’s training camp practice at Camp Randall Thursday, about four hours after the initial announcement. Alvarez said Smith’s teammates were informed Tuesday that Smith could no longer play.
“I think they were aware of the seriousness of it,” Alvarez said.
Smith was entirely asymptomatic; he showed no signs that anything was wrong with his heart or his health until a pre-practice physical. It was then, prior to the Badgers’ first practice of the fall, that Wisconsin’s medical staff heard a “murmur” in Smith’s heartbeat.
“A lot of times we hear murmurs… that are normal in healthy hearts,” Landry said. “And sometimes it means something’s wrong. There was something about that sound that meant we needed to consult a cardiologist.
Despite the concern, Smith was allowed to practice that day.
“All we had was a murmer that was questionable,” Landry said. “So, I just decided to let him practice that day because he worked out all summer and he had no symptoms.”
Landry said, however, that “about 10 percent” of people who have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy die suddenly at some point in their lifetime without ever showing symptoms.
Smith was held out of practice for the rest of fall camp. He soon visited two cardiologists at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, where he was diagnosed with HCM. It was recommended then that he quit football. Smith sought a second opinion and received it from Dr. Barry Maron, the Director of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. Maron confirmed Smith’s condition, prompting the decision to end his football career.
“Obviously it was very, very difficult for him, and his family,” Alvarez said. “I think in the last 24 hours he’s better but he loves football and loves to compete. He’s worked very hard to put himself in this position; it’s hard to give up. And then to step back and take a look at the seriousness of what he has. I think taking all those things into consideration, he’s handled it as well as he possibly can.”
Prior to arriving at Wisconsin, Smith was a standout running back and class valedictorian at Hales Franciscan Catholic in Chicago. He rushed for a school-record 3,296 yards and 34 touchdowns in his career.
For the Badgers, he played in 13 of 14 games as a true freshman, compiling 552 rushing yards, the fourth-highest total ever for a UW freshman, and six rushing touchdowns.
Smith started five games in place of injured star Anthony Davis last season and played in all 13 contests. He ran for 193 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-20 win over Illinois and contributed 207 yards rushing and three touchdowns on just 21 carries in a 56-21 trouncing of Michigan State.
Davis, a senior, is healthy and ready to serve as the Badgers’ workhorse. Smith had been the heir apparent prior to his February arrest. Initially suspended indefinitely via Wisconsin’s Student-Athlete Discipline Policy, an appeals committee amended Smith’s punishment to five practices. He did not miss a beat when he returned to the field and in fact looked more explosive then he had before, a feat he attributed, when he spoke to the media Aug. 11, to being more comfortable in the offense.
Smith is charged with second-degree sexual assault, a Class C felony. Another man, Anwar Jones, 22, is accused of leading the 19-year-old woman from a downtown party to another downtown apartment, where the rape allegedly took place while Jones watched. Jones is charged with being party to the crime of second-degree sexual assault, which is also a Class C felony.
Both Smith and Jones pled not guilty at an arraignment May 18. Smith had not talked to reporters following his arrest until Wisconsin’s media day Aug. 11.
On Aug. 11, Smith said he was not nervous regarding his legal ordeal. About a week later Smith’s trial was delayed indefinitely while a motion filed by Smith’s defense attorney, Charles Giesen, is under consideration. Giesen has requested that the case be either dismissed or remanded for a new preliminary hearing.
Just as the legal cloud that has hung over Smith’s life for the past six months was beginning to clear, his football life has changed immeasurably.
“All we can do right now, No. 1, is be grateful that we found the situation and we as a coaching staff and a team can support Dwayne,” Alvarez said.
Landry said that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy affects every individual differently.
“Not everybody with this condition has the same risk,” he said. “He’s now working that out with his cardiologist on what his options are and what he can do and what he can’t do.”
Smith, though, has two resources who, unfortunately, know first-hand how to cope with a career-ending heart condition.
Latrell Fleming, a prep basketball star at Milwaukee Marshall, was recruited the same year as last season’s Big Ten Player of the year, Devin Harris, and was envisioned as Harris’ backcourt mate at UW. Flemming was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy after passing out during preseason conditioning drills and never played a game or suited up for a formal practice at Wisconsin. He has remained on scholarship and remained a part of the team, serving as a student coach and taking a spot on the bench during games. Fleming has said that he expects to graduate in the spring of 2005, attend law school the following year and eventually become a sports agent.
Thomas Hammock, a second-year graduate assistant with the UW football team, was diagnosed with an enlarged muscle mass near the left side of his heart in September 2002, after suffering from shortness of breadth after Northern Illinois’ season opener that year. He ran for 2,432 yards and scored 25 touchdowns during his career at Northern Illinois.
“Those are probably the only people, people like that; ones that have experienced that type of issue and have to give up something that’s important to them are the ones that can really relate to him,” Alvarez said.
Smith will continue to work with the Wisconsin football team, serving as a coach for the Badgers’ tailbacks, especially true freshmen Jamil Walker and Chris Pressley, who likely will be pressed into service as a result of Smith’s condition.
Alvarez said there was no question Smith could have a positive impact on Walker and Pressley, “much like Thomas did for (Dwayne) and (Booker Stanley) a year ago when Anthony was down. They had somebody to lean on, someone close to their age who watched everything and could get a little closer to them maybe then a coach can.”
Pressley and Walker have taken significant reps for the Badgers throughout fall camp and are currently sharing the No. 3 tailback duties.
“They’ve had their reps and they’re progressing, much like a few years ago (when) we had to get Dwayne ready as a freshman,” Alvarez said.
Stanley, now No. 2, ran for 523 yards and five touchdowns last year. He had three 100-yard games, including a 31-carry, 125-yard, 1-touchdown performance in a 17-10 win over Ohio State.
“Booker’s a good, solid back and you’ve seen him win big games for us,” Alvarez said.
The starter, Davis, ran for more than 3,000 yards his first two seasons combined and averaged nearly six yards per carry last season. Injuries, though, held him to 682 yards and seven rushing touchdowns in 2003.