Profile: Kelvin Smith ‘20, Yale footballer


Rena Salsberg , Staff Writer

Not to be cliché, but there’s nothing like that feeling when you’re out on the field, and you make a big play, and you look up and see the crowd around you. There’s a reason why people go through all these struggles to play college sports —– it’s not just for nothing,” Yale football player Kelvin Smith ’20 said. 

Ironically, Smith’s journey to playing football at Yale began with basketball, which he had been passionate about since he was young, he said. A year before he graduated, Smith transferred to The Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey, because it was more athletics-focused and would give him a better shot at getting recruited by college coaches, he said. “I sat down with the football coach [at The Hun School] and he asked me where I wanted to go to college. I told him I wanted to go to an Ivy League school but to play basketball.”

The coach told Smith he could help him get into an Ivy League school not for basketball, but for football. That’s when Smith started to take the sport more seriously. Because Smith’s recruitment coincided with the height of the pandemic, much of the process was virtual. He sent highlight tapes of him playing in games to university coaches, who evaluated the clips. If the coaches then asked for a recording of the complete game, he had a shot with the school. Since coaches compete with one another to recruit the same people, they withhold their offers as long as possible to ensure that athletes accept or place their offer first in case the athlete is willing to take a chance with them. Yale was Smith’s first offer.

Getting recruited to Yale was a huge surprise, Smith said. In the summer before his senior year, he went on Twitter for the first time in a while  and saw messages from various Yale football assistant coaches. “I responded to these texts thinking that they were just fan accounts — I didn’t know they were actual coaches reaching out to me because I was not used to using Twitter for recruitment purposes.”

Shortly after he responded to the messages, a Yale coach set up a Zoom call with him and gave him an offer. “It was a shock to me, but it was good to see that my work was gaining attention, and coaches were seeing what I could do,” he said.

After a year of attending Yale as a student-athlete, juggling work, socializing, and athletics is still difficult, Smith said. “You have to find that balance because if you fall behind, there’s not going to be any time to catch up.” Players’ schedules are even more intense in the off-season: lifting in the morning, practicing in the afternoon, and studying old clips to improve compounds with studying for exams and staying on top of schoolwork.

Despite those challenges, Smith stands by his decision to play a sport in college. “It’s something that I chose to do, and it’s something I am enjoying,” he said. Whether he’ll play football professionally after he graduates is still up in the air. “If I do have the chance to play professionally, I will definitely try and take that opportunity.”