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Former Gateway coach Smith is 'perfect fit' for Penn State football staff

Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Penn State cornerbacks coach Terry Smith makes a point during the opening day of spring practice Monday, March 17, 2014, in University Park.

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Terry Smith has walked through the doors and into the lobby of Penn State's Lasch Building almost daily for half a year now.

The feeling he gets entering the stately headquarters for his alma mater's football program hasn't gotten old yet.

“Every day I walk in the building, I smile,” Smith said. “I smile, and I say to myself how blessed I am to be here.”

Just like it did a quarter-century ago, wearing blue and white has suited Smith just fine.

Smith, a former standout quarterback and coach at Gateway, was hired as the Nittany Lions cornerbacks coach and defensive recruiting coordinator in January. He is the lone member of the new Penn State staff who hadn't previously been an assistant under coach James Franklin while Franklin was at Vanderbilt.

Smith also is coaching on a different side of the ball and still is just about 18 months removed from making the jump from WPIAL Class AAAA — where he led Gateway to Heinz Field for the title game four times — to the highest level of Division I football.

“Terry's fit in extremely well,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. “He's been awesome.”

“It's been a win-win for everybody,” Franklin said of Smith's inclusion onto his staff. “When you come to Penn State, you're looking for a fit. We've got the guy who was the perfect fit in Terry.”

Smith spent last season on the staff at Temple after an estrangement from his other alma mater, Gateway, that ultimately resulted in a settlement of almost $32,000 to Smith.

Since their split, the Gators program and the man who for so long was the face of it have fared differently. While Gateway is on its second coach in as many seasons after losses in three of its final four games last year, Smith quickly ascended to the staff of a traditional college power.

Rather than publicly boast, though, Smith takes the high road. The Gateway district was his home first, after moving with his parents from Aliquippa when he was 6 years old (they still live in Monroeville). Then for a decade as the Gators coach and athletic director.

“God has blessed me my entire life, and he hasn't failed me yet,” Smith said. “I was blessed to go to Gateway for 11 years, and … now I'm at one of the best universities on the planet.”

Smith's worth to Penn State has proven well beyond the ostensive reasons Franklin hired him — to provide a link to Penn State's past (the only PSU alum on the staff, Smith starred at receiver for Joe Paterno from 1988-91) — and serve as an ace recruiter.

“I thought that's where his value would be — and it is his value —but on top of that, what a great coach he's become” Shoop said. “He and I complement each other very well. … He's a great teacher, first and foremost. But even if you take a step back beyond that, he's a great person, a great role model for our guys, a good husband and a good father.”

Smith said his wife, Alison, and daughter, Haley, are enjoying State College as much as he has. Haley, 15, has Down Syndrome, and the Smiths appreciate State College School District's special-education program.

“This place is the right fit for my family, as well,” Smith said.

It always has been. Smith is the middle of a three-generation run of Penn Staters (father Harvey is a 1968 graduate; stepson Justin King was a standout cornerback from 2005-07).

“I don't have any struggles ever getting up early in the morning and working late,” Smith said. “Working at such a great place with some great people for a common goal, it's just been fantastic.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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