URI football would be nowhere without its culture-setting Director of Player Development. Photo from GoRhody.com

Parked outside of Narragansett Beach on a cold fall afternoon, Donnie Smith, the University of Rhode Island’s assistant football coach, was in the midst of one of his favorite routines: enjoying the waves as they hit the shoreline. 

Living in the Ocean State has helped foster his love for being on the water. At the age of 10, Smith began surfing. His family would drive him down to Narragansett to surf the waves. The sport was an outlet for him to express himself. 

“I would take anything in my life that was negative and when I would go surf; I would surf the biggest wave,” Smith said. 

After graduating from high school at the age of 16, Smith decided to enlist in the Marines and was stationed at Camp Pendleton just outside of San Diego for infantry training. Here, he continued to surf and joined the 1st Marine Division football team. 

After being stationed at the Marine Corps Base in Hawaii for a few years, Smith decided to leave the Marines. He would return to school, attending the University of Hawaii while pursuing a professional surfing career. He also began coaching football and picked up kayaking.  Smith even competed for a world championship outrigger canoe team. 

From Hawaii, Smith moved to Ohio to get his master’s degree at the University of Akron. Here, he met Rhode Island Football head coach Jim Fleming, who at the time was the defensive coordinator for the Akron Zips. Smith would also spend some time coaching high school football in Ohio and interning for the San Francisco 49ers. He reunited with Coach Fleming in 2013 when he joined his staff as the Director of Player Development. 

Over the past seven years, Smith has played a pivotal role in shaping the Rhode Island football program. He was responsible for introducing the team’s anchor bearer tradition and was instrumental in the recruitment of future pros like New York Giants offensive lineman Kyle Murphy and New England Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser. 

“I’ll never forget walking in and meeting [Murphy] for the first time,” Smith said. “He had this look in his eyes and I just knew he was special from day one. He exemplifies everything of what a Ram is.” 

Smith’s duties within the football program also include coaching the scout special teams and helping players get jobs, internships, housing and anything else outside of the realm of football. For offensive lineman Montaner Fresilli, Smith is as versatile as it gets. 

“He’s a jack-of-all-trades and he just wants to make your college experience the best it can be,” he said.  

Fresilli, who is a redshirt freshman, also expressed how much Smith’s support has helped him navigate his football career and college life so far at URI. 

“It’s good to have a reinforcing factor in practice to keep on going because as a Division I college football player, life gets very difficult and to go to practice everyday and give 110 percent is too,” the player said. “He’s just always there to make sure you keep going.”

Smith refers to his players “as if they were family” and said that he helps them out in the way that you would do for family.

Although Smith may not get the recognition that others may get around the program, his efforts to go the extra mile for his players doesn’t go unnoticed. 

“I have a lot of respect for Donnie and he does a job that is one in a million,” Fresilli said. “There will never ever be another Donnie Smith and I’m so lucky and so honored to be coached by him.”