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Circle of Friends Keeping QB Safe

He's 22 years old — a tall, handsome and extremely bright multi-millionaire with a home in Los Gatos.

The world and everything in it is Alex Smith's smorgasbord, and he knows it.

But the San Francisco 49ers quarterback also knows to tread lightly and avoid the gluttony that continues to be the downfall of so many young athletes.

There are no pit bull cages in Smith's backyard, and he's unlikely to be caught firing a handgun at 3 a.m. outside a nightclub.

"You get to know pretty quickly who the people are and should be inside your circle and those who aren't, and when you're doing things right that distinction is pretty black and white with no shades of gray," Smith said. "You protect that circle and you learn to appreciate those people even more."

The 100 or so fans who lined up at Modesto Toyota on Wednesday to pose for photos and an autograph with Smith had the chance to see and chat with the regular, very down-to-earth guy who just happens to be an NFL quarterback, a former No. 1 draft pick.

He's quick with his sincere smile. Every fan gets eye contact and a greeting. Pose for a photo? Sure. Do you want that standing or sitting? Hold your baby? No problem. Autograph your Raiders jersey? Well, why not?

"I'm a pretty normal guy," Smith said. "I think people are surprised to see how normal I am and how laid-back I am."

There is a guarded soft edge to that image, one his agents have been hired to foster and protect. On the other hand, since being nice seems natural to Smith, it might be the easiest gig an agent can take on.

"In my rookie year, I went to everything," he said. "The ESPYs called, they wanted me there, and I went. That stuff got to be shallow and fake for me.

"What I really enjoyed doing was renting a box and taking the linemen to a Warriors game. I don't really enjoy all the parties — those don't really fit me. I'm not into the L.A. scene — that's such a shallow world."

By carefully choosing endorsement deals, Smith and his agents guard against over-saturation and affiliations with anything that may backfire. And by saying "no" now, Smith's value as a corporate spokesman will increase exponentially when he emerges as a marquee NFL quarterback.

"In my rookie year, I was game for everything," Smith said. "If I'm approached with an idea that's not worth my time or is not in line with what I'm feeling, then I'm passing on that."

There are non-football things that are worth his time. He recently donated $500,000 to his alma mater, the University of Utah, to help expand its athletic training facilities.

And Smith gladly fills his offseason calendar with appearances to aid his Alex Smith Foundation, which — among other causes — raises funds to help foster kids gain the skills that will help them succeed as adults.

"A lot of guys will host a golf tournament just to say they have an event and say they have a foundation," Smith said. "This is something I'm really into and am going to continue to get more involved with.

"I support my foundation all on my own, so 100 percent of the funds that come in go toward the foundation. Outside of football, the foundation is something I take a lot of pride in."

The foundation has helped Smith place a value on his own time. In fact, "Time With Alex" is a common fund-raiser. He spent Wednesday morning golfing with someone who won that right in an auction raffle. He has taken high bidders to Giants games and even has gone into a winner's home to cook a meal.

"I will take orders, but I'm a barbecue guy," Smith said. "I make great ribs, just about anything.

"Every time it happens, I'm amazed that people pay good money for that. Those are all things that take my time but don't cost anything, so all the proceeds go to the foundation."

For a moment, however, consider Smith's temptations. As the 49ers' quarterback, he automatically is San Francisco's most eligible bachelor.

Joe Montana filled that role quietly until he met his wife on the set of a Noxzema commercial. Steve Young also was a low-key bachelor, as was Jeff Garcia until he started dating a Playboy model.

Smith is fully aware of those opportunities and strives to be just as careful and discrete in that area as he is with his endorsements.

"I play football because I'm an extremely competitive person and football fulfills that thrill for me," he said. "I don't do it for attention. I don't do it for girls, although that part of it is nice and that's definitely one of the benefits.

"I play for my teammates, my family and myself, and I'm trying to prove to everyone that I deserved that pick, that I'm going to go down alongside the greats of the position with the Niners."

Smith has the money, the time, the youth and the looks to be a major social player. It's not what he wants.

And so Smith chooses — ever so carefully — the identity, scope and reach of his business and personal associations, attacking life's unlimited buffet table with the calculated, selective nature of a lactose-intolerant vegan.

By keeping that low profile, he knows he can maintain the as-normal-as-possible lifestyle of an everyday Joe, er, Alex.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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