By: Thomas Becker
When the fresh, new-look jerseys arrived earlier this month, Sam Smiley rummagedÂ through the box looking for one number in particular â€“ No. 9.
Close friend and current Panther captain, Ignacio Sanchez was assigned the numberÂ the last three years, but knowing its significance, he offered it to Smiley.
It was the same number his Hall of Fame dad wore when he took to the UPEI fieldÂ three decades earlier.
â€œIt was a special moment for me. Not only am I putting on the same jersey as him,Â but the number as well. Itâ€™s special.â€
A SOCCER STAR IS BORN
Growing up in British Columbia, Smileyâ€™s first sport of interest was hockey and onÂ his off days his father, Glenn Smiley â€“ a retired RCMP officer â€“ would take youngÂ Sam to the local rink and teach him how to skate before allowing him to handle aÂ stick. He taught him everything he knew about the sport, but lying dormant was thatÂ soccer gene just waiting for a platform to shine.
Even after his college years, Glenn continued to play soccer with a local club andÂ when a group of the guys gathered their kids for a world cup style soccerÂ tournament, Glenn quickly saw the potential his son â€“ who was just five at the time â€“Â had on the field.
â€œThey had team Canada and we were Germany. Canada was killing teams like 7 andÂ 8-0 and the adults were high-fiving each other on the sidelines. So hereâ€™s my wifeÂ and I saying to Sam â€˜come on now pass the ball.â€™ He could run through anybody, butÂ we always told him to share the ball. Weâ€™re about to play Canada and a coupleÂ parents came up to us and said â€˜itâ€™s OK if Sam carries the ball in this game.â€™ So weÂ ended up beating Canada 6-0 and Sam scored all the goals,â€ he said with a chuckle.
About a year later, the family moved back to Prince Edward Island after Samâ€™sÂ mother, Jacinta Gallant, started a law practice. It was here where Sam began toÂ realize his potential as a soccer player. And it was also around this time when heÂ learned his dad played professionally for the Edmonton Drillers of the NorthÂ American Soccer League (NASL) in 1980 and suited up for the national team beforeÂ committing to UPEI.
â€œOnce I was old enough to realize how cool that was, I started to like soccer a lotÂ more,â€ Sam said.
GLENN SMILEY â€“ FATHER, COACH and HALL of FAMER
Glenn had a storied career at UPEI, which spanned from 1982-87. He was the teamâ€™sÂ captain and led the Panthers to three consecutive championships in 1983, â€˜84 andÂ â€˜85. Because of his play in midfield, he was inducted into the UPEI Hall of Fame inÂ 2003.
â€œHeâ€™s the type of player that will run a guy over. They called him Crunch,â€ Sam said.Â â€œGrowing up, all Iâ€™d hear was how good he was and to get out of his way because heÂ will run you over.â€
The stories Glenn tells about a campus buzzing with championship excitement, likeÂ the time a trio of UPEI teams â€“ soccer, basketball and hockey â€“ were all ranked No. 1Â in the country, spoke to Sam and sparked an interest.
â€œIt gave me goose bumps, because thatâ€™s what weâ€™re trying to do,â€ he said. â€œI have aÂ picture in my head of what that looks like and what that would have felt like andÂ thatâ€™s what I want.â€
Soccer quickly became more than just a sport, but a chance to strengthen a bondÂ between father and son. Glenn even coached Sam and some of his closest friendsÂ who are also members of the Panthers, including Sanchez, Jake Deighan and AustinÂ MacKenzie at the club level.
â€œI think a lot of people donâ€™t like their dad as a coach, but I liked it. If anything, heÂ pushed me harder than anybody else.â€
But it didnâ€™t come without its challenges.
â€œAt times Iâ€™d get mad at him during practice, but it was tough to stay mad at himÂ after, since I had to go home with him in the same car,â€ he said. â€œNow we have thisÂ rule sometimes at the dinner table where weâ€™re not allowed to talk about soccer.â€
Still, soccer has always been connected with the Smiley name. Samâ€™s grandfatherÂ played professionally in Scotland and his sister Taylor also played. The Smileyâ€™sÂ even have a net set up in the front yard, where they spent hours kicking the ball around.
â€œSoccer just seems to be a theme in our family that brings us all together.â€
SAM SMILEY â€“ ALL-STAR IN THE MAKING
While thereâ€™s an undeniable love for the sport, Sam never felt pressure by his fatherÂ to take soccer any further than he wanted. That said, Sam pushed himself and thereÂ were lots of early mornings with his father at the Stratford Indoor Complex trainingÂ and developing into the smart, sure-footed forward that fans know today. Glenn alsoÂ shared his experiences with his son and prepared him for the mental side of theÂ game and how to handle the ups and downs the soccer season brings, whether itÂ was at the high school or provincial level.
â€œEven if I had a bad day at soccer or if I was playing bad all week, heâ€™d always tell meÂ that everyone has those weeks and that I would bounce back.â€
After high school, Sam spent some time in Scotland where he trained with some ofÂ Europeâ€™s up-and-coming stars. But home was where he wanted to be and a fewÂ months later he returned, ready to take on university. And UPEI was the only schoolÂ he considered joining.
â€œIâ€™m kind of a homebody, I like having my friends and family around. And there wasÂ the added bonus that I get to follow in my dadâ€™s footsteps.â€
Admittedly there was a bit of pressure attending the same university where hisÂ father made a name for himself, but it wasnâ€™t bad pressure.
â€œI think itâ€™s motivation if anything. Motivation to put the work in and be better eachÂ day. I want to show that Iâ€™m right there with him.â€
Having a pair of familiar faces cheering him on win or lose didnâ€™t hurt either.
â€œI feel a lot of pride when I watch him on the field because he respects the game. HeÂ plays it a high tempo and he has the skills that any coach would want to have on theÂ field,â€ Glenn said. â€œHe wants to play with the other players. He wants to share andÂ heâ€™s excited when they score. Heâ€™s excited when they do it as a group. And thatÂ makes you proud as a father.â€
In 2017, Sam was named a second-team all-star for the first time in his AUS careerÂ and Glenn was one of the first people he contacted.
â€œTo me, Sam will always be a first-team all-star. I see what he brings to the field andÂ it was about time,â€ he said. â€œFor him to finally get that recognition it just makes youÂ very proud of him and for him because I know how hard heâ€™s worked.â€
Now, like his father once was, he too has become one of the faces of UPEI soccer,Â trying to bring back the glory days of old.
â€œYou kind of have to sit back and take it all in. A lot of people donâ€™t get thatÂ opportunity,â€ Sam said. â€œJust growing up and hearing his name and how importantÂ he was to UPEI, I hope one day that can be me too.â€
And as his soccer journey continues, he knows he can count on No. 9 to support himÂ along the way.
â€œHeâ€™s been a driving force for me. If I didnâ€™t have that, I wouldnâ€™t be as successful orÂ motivated to take UPEI somewhere.â€