Forget you ever read or heard the name Anthony Smithson. He doesn’t exist.
Just ask him.
Smithson, a junior-college transfer in the Kansas University football program’s latest signing class, goes by “Fish.” His grandmother, Quincy Anne Thorton, gave him the aquatic alias when he was just an infant, living in Baltimore’s inner city.
“Since then, it kind of just stuck with me,” the sophomore safety explained. “I usually don’t like going by Anthony too much.”
KU football coach Charlie Weis found that out quickly when he first met the transfer from Hartnell College.
“Fish — and please call him Fish — he’s such a pain in the butt if you don’t call him Fish,” Weis cracked at KU’s signing day press conference earlier this month. “I don’t know why. You can ask him. I would like to know the answer.”
Smithson embraced Fish, because his grandmother died when he was young, and he still fondly remembers the time he spent with her, going to church every Sunday and celebrating holidays in her house.
“I feel more with her every time I hear the name Fish,” he said.
As for why she chose that handle in particular, Smithson is keeping as mute as a mackerel on the subject.
“That part right there is kind of a family secret,” he said, smiling. “Not too many people know that part, and actually I just found out a couple of years ago.”
Owning a peculiar nickname doesn’t bother Smithson, even if it can make introductions more tedious than necessary. When greeting a stranger for the first time, the safety can read what’s coming next. The person on the other side of the conversation might as well be a quarterback staring down a receiver.
“They kind of give me a weird look, like ‘Fish?’” he shared, laughing.
In fact, he had a bizarre encounter while interacting with someone new on KU’s campus just a couple weeks back.
“They just said, ‘I’m not calling you that.’ And just walked away,” Smithson recalled. “And I was just standing there like, ‘What am I supposed to say?’”
That back-and-forth might be the only thing that has gone wrong for the 5-foot-11, 185-pound defensive back since he arrived in Lawrence. He signed with Kansas without even seeing the program in person, but hasn’t regretted the decision a bit. Soon after he arrived at KU, a couple of his junior-college teammates, junior defensive lineman Kapil Fletcher and junior running back De’Andre Mann, did the same.
Plus, Keyon Haughton, a junior offensive lineman transfer from Georgia Military College, also hails from Baltimore, so he and Smithson had a bond right off the bat.
“I’m loving KU right now,” Smithson said. “It’s kind of a good deal I got going on.”
The only real adjustment facing Smithson, who has three years of eligibility remaining, is competing at the Division I level after a year of junior-college competition. He racked up 75 tackles and eight interceptions in his one season at Hartnell, located in Salinas, Calif. But he has approached his new team with an open mind, even though he has the confidence to step right into the safety rotation this spring — and Weis confirmed Smithson could do just that at his signing day press conference.
KU strong safeties junior Isaiah Johnson and sophomore Tevin Shaw, as well as senior free safety Cassius Sendish, return for KU with playing experience, and Smithson has been impressed with how hard they and other members of the secondary work.
“We have a lot of returning starters and a lot of guys that’s leaders on the team,” Smithson said, “that can bring the junior college guys in, like myself, and high school guys in and just show them the ropes of what it means to play Kansas football.”
A gut feeling, the safety said, led him to Kansas instead of Utah, Oregon State or Wisconsin. The NFL name recognition carried by Weis and assistant defense head coach Dave Campo intrigued Smithson, too.
“I just felt like it was home,” Smithson said, “and it fit more my playing style, the Big 12. If you’re a DB and you don’t like the Big 12 Conference, then you probably don’t like football that much. I love the way they throw the ball around, and I love competition.”
Smithson sees himself as a range safety, and said his only expectations are to do what his coaches ask, study his play book and go hard on every down.
If he does all of those things, no one will remember the name Anthony.