Paul Smith has been a major cog in the season success of the West Virginia Wesleyan Men's Soccer team. Entering this weekend's NCAA Tournament, the Bobcats have received a major spark from the Glasgow, Scotland native.
"Paul is the engine of our midfield," veteran head coach Gavin Donaldson said. "He is very active in our defense, and always seems to make the right pass in getting our offense moving forward. Plus, he has scored some goals and added some assists as well."
For his career, Smith now has 17 goals and seven assists. This season has been his best in terms of offensive production, scoring 10 goals and four assists in leading the Bobcats to a 12-5-3 season, and a win over #1 ranked UC in the Mountain East Conference title game.
Smith's journey to Wesleyan began as a youth player back in Scotland. In Glasgow, a city of over 700,000, opportunities were abundant for youth soccer players. He began play at the age of four and advanced through the various level of club ball growing up.
"Until you are about 12 or 13, there is not as much of a focus on wins and losses in my country," Smith said. "The club programs and their coaches put much more emphasis on skill development and simply learning the game. By the time you are teenager, and playing at a higher level, you are really prepared for a higher level of competition."
As a teenager, Smith was playing year round. He split time between his school team and his club team, and began to be a dominant force in the midfield. Seeing he could potentially play as a collegian in the United States, he joined several of his other teammates and foes in joining a recruit agency. By becoming a client of the "Pass4Soccer Agency" he began to get himself marketed to US colleges.
With a solid career under his belt for the Giffnock Club in Glasgow, and being capped for Scottish Schoolboys, Smith was getting noticed. While several colleges were on his radar, it was Wesleyan that caught his eye.
"It was really all about the academics that set Wesleyan apart," Smith said. "They had a good soccer program here and the area seemed like a good fit. But it was getting to major in economics and marketing at a school like this that led to my decision."
Smith was familiar with the United States to some degree before his arrival as a student-athlete. He had visited his uncles and cousins in Boston several times growing up, and his family once parlayed one of the Boston trips into a tour of New York City.
"What I knew of the US really was not at all like Buckhannon. I remember driving down a bunch of country roads, and we hit this one town where an abandoned rail station was the key tourist attraction. I began to wonder where we were heading," Smith said. "But when we got here to Wesleyan, and met the people, I felt a lot better about all of it. It has been a good experience here."
As a freshman, Smith worked his way into the starting lineup midway through the year, and has held his spot throughout his career. His sophomore year, he posted four goals and three assists...numbers he has already eclipsed this year.
"Our goal this year was to get Charleston and take the Mountain East," Smith said. "When you have a national power like them in your own league, you know that if you can take them down, you will probably be able to make a deep run in the NCAA tourney. We think we have a nice team, but we have to go out there and prove it now that we are there."
After college, Smith is hoping to play somewhere at the next level. He states that he will play wherever that opportunity might take him, but he hopeful that it could be either in the US or back in Scotland. From there, he is looking at a job professionally in the finance world.
"Perhaps something in banking or some other job dealing with economics," Smith said. "I know my mom and dad keep asking me what my plans are, but I am not real sure on what direction I am going with the degree."
For now, there is one direction Smith quite sure he is pursuing...a Bobcat pursuit of a deep NCAA run.
(Photo Courtesy of Pete Galarneau Jr. )