The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday December 5th

Playing Days Passed, But Memories Remain

15 years later, Smyth reflects on UNC career

But when UNC women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance thinks about Stokes' game, he sees shades of a David from the 1980s - David Smyth.

"(Smyth) led the best teams I ever coached on the men's side," said Dorrance, who coached the UNC men's team until 1988. "He had a nice balance between supporting someone and kicking them in the ass."

Smyth defied the "classic stereotype of the one-dimensional thug," Dorrance added, because he was powerful yet had tremendous skill, a rare combination.

Smyth, however, is a bit more humble in describing his style of play.

"If you played with 11 guys like me, you wouldn't win," Smyth said. "(But) if you surrounded me with good players ... I was able to play to my strengths."

In 1987, Smyth's senior year, the Tar Heels had plenty of good players and they enjoyed one of their best seasons under Dorrance.

UNC went 20-5 and won the ACC tournament, which Smyth said was one of his best memories of his playing career.

But what happened in the NCAA tournament a couple weeks later, Smyth remembers with a little less glee.

The Tar Heels reached the final four, where they met Clemson, a team they'd defeated once in the regular season and again in the ACC tournament. Smyth recalled rumors that said if UNC beat Clemson in the conference tourney, the Tigers wouldn't make it to the national tournament.

Well, Clemson made the tournament. Then, the Tigers hosted the final four. They beat the Tar Heels 4-1 and went on to win the national championship.

"It's bitter to this day," Smyth said. "I gladly would've exchanged any one of the two wins to have that one. (You're) so close to national championship ring ... But they deserved it that day, so we'll move on."

Although disenchanted about the game, Smyth was content to have his college career end that December afternoon.

"I guess I was ready for it to be over at that point," Smyth said. "It was just time."

Smyth left UNC with All America honors in '86 and '87, and his 28 goals and 27 assists put him in a seventh-place tie on UNC's all-time scoring list.

Smyth went on to play professionally in the American Soccer Leauge for five years in Albany, N.Y., where he also met his wife, Jodi.

But when the league folded, Smyth had to decide if he wanted to continue pursuing his playing career.

Unsure of where that pursuit would take him, he chose to get into coaching. After a season as an assistant at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Smyth returned to the Triangle.

That move allowed Smyth to get something that had eluded him for years - his college degree, which he earned in physical education in 1998 from UNC.

While working toward his degree, Smyth was an assistant coach for Duke's men's soccer team, a position he held until 1999.

He left the Blue Devils that year, he said, because it was just time to move on.

Smyth relocated to Conway, S.C., where he was to be the head coach of the Myrtle Beach Sea Dogs of the U.S. Indoor Soccer League, but the team folded before he got started.

With that plan falling though, Smyth was forced to make another decision regarding his soccer career -- continue climbing the coaching ranks and moving his family every couple years, or remain in Conway and raise his family.

He chose the latter.

Now 38, David and Jodi Smyth have been married 10 years and have two kids. Although his playing days are over, he hasn't strayed too far from the game he dedicated most of his life to.

Both of his children play soccer, and he coaches a local under-16 club team, one that he guided to a second place finish in the state tournament last year.

His UNC career ended 15 years ago, but Smyth fondly remembers his time in Chapel Hill.

"The experiences are something that you'll always be able to look back on," Smyth said. "You'll just never forget it. The prime of your life right before things get different."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports.unc.edu

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