Fantuz Courage Awards: Pierce Smith overcame adversity while being a team leader

Overcoming adversity is something that we all must do at some point in our lives. For young quarterback Pierce Smith, that challenge came very early on in the form of a learning disability that affected his ability to read and write.

But with the help of the game he loves, Smith has demonstrated that learning disabilities can be overcome while also being a great leader and playing one of the most mentally challenging positions in all of sports. Through his hard work and perseverance, Smith has made tremendous improvements with his reading and writing skills while having tons of fun on the football field.

Smith had just started playing football in Grade 3 when he found out why he was having such a difficult time reading compared to his peers.

“He went for what they call a school psychologist’s assessment so they could figure out why he couldn’t get the reading part, because he could do other stuff like math and everything else,” said Jeff Smith, Pierce’s father. “So that’s when they determined through the assessments that he had a disability.”

Smith said he remembers not being surprised by the diagnosis, but he was relieved to know what was wrong.

“I was happy I finally got help,” Smith said.

Now 12 years old, Smith has amazingly worked his way up to the same reading level as his peers with the help of technology and a learning program called Empower.

Being a football player, Smith was used to working hard towards a goal. But he said the toughest part about overcoming his learning disability was simply how much work it took.

“Just working really hard every day, putting extra work into it and always having to type stuff and do it on a computer instead of handwriting it because no one else can read it,” Smith said about his struggles.

Jeff Smith said that after putting in all that extra work, his son is reading books that just a year ago would have been much too difficult for him.

“His thought process was fine but putting it out through his handwriting was a terrible process for him,” Jeff Smith said. “So he had to take those extra steps to make his teachers understand that he was at the same level as everybody else, he just had the disability behind him so it couldn’t be handwritten in a test form like everyone else.”

A testament to the positive influence football can have, Smith said the sport helped him during his challenges by providing support and keeping him motivated. The quarterback was never alone on his journey.

“Everyone’s got your back in football,” Smith said. “You’re all part of one big family and team.”

Playing quarterback has been a positive outlet for Smith. His father said it was through football that his son found something he truly excelled at using his mind.

“That’s where he found his niche because running something and seeing the whole picture is what he’s amazing at,” Jeff Smith said. “Although people used to not understand that because he would struggle in other areas like reading. But as far as seeing the whole picture, it was always there in his mind.”

It was in football where Smith was able to harness the part of his mind that wasn’t affected by his learning disability: the analytical side. It is his intelligence and ability to see the big picture that makes him perfect for the quarterback position.

“He does super well in math and always had an analytical mind, so following a play and anything on a diagram is something he excels in,” Jeff Smith said. “When a coach gives him a play and it’s plotted out on a diagram he executes it exactly how it’s supposed to be.”

It is also through football that Smith has developed into a true leader. The young quarterback cheers on his teammates and keeps them on track during the game by knowing everyone’s assignment.

“I like that I get to run the team and sort of help out by telling people what to do if they don’t know and making sure that everything is going to be right,” Smith said.

Smith said he hopes to keep playing football for a while. The young passer currently plays for the London Junior Mustangs of the Ontario Provincial Football League and for the Hammers of the London Minor Football Association.

“I want to play in high school and maybe even go further, but you never know,” Smith said. “Football has always been fun and it’s always been a sport I liked because my grandpa played it and he was good.”

Smith was recently selected along with a group of other young football players to be honoured by CFL receiver Andy Fantuz for overcoming adversity and demonstrating outstanding character. Smith got to hang out with Fantuz, who has joined up with Xenith to recognize the young players and give them free helmets and shoulder pads.

“It was awesome,” Smith said. “Meeting him and meeting all the Xenith people was fun and I thought it was amazing what they did.”

Always working hard and staying positive, Smith wants to let other kids facing similar challenges know that overcoming a learning disability can be done if you keep moving forward and never give up.

“I would say to them to keep on working,” Smith said. “You’ll always find a solution and there’s always going to be a way to do it. You don’t have to stop playing, because football also helps you. It gives you a motivation to do something. Don’t just sit on your butt and do nothing.”

With his future looking bright and his reading and writing skills progressing to match his peers, there is no question how much Smith’s hard work has payed off. Smith’s on-field success shows that nothing can slow you down if you are determined to succeed.

“He’s a champion for me just by seeing him overcome certain things personally, but then also seeing him on the football field when he’s 100 per cent in control,” Jeff Smith said. “When he’s playing quarterback he knows where everyone is supposed to be and it’s like chess, he seems to know what is three moves ahead.”

Whether or not Smith goes far in football, no one can ever take away what the sport has meant for him while overcoming his personal challenge. There is no happier place for Smith than when he is dropping back and passing the ball.

“Throwing is fun,” Smith said. “It’s good to find an open target, especially when you throw it in for a touchdown. It’s always great.”


Andy Fantuz will be honouring minor football athletes who have demonstrated outstanding character by overcoming adversity. The nominees will receive free Xenith helmets and shoulder pads courtesy of Andy Fantuz and Fulton Financial.





About Xenith

Developed in Detroit, Xenith is driven by a relentless pursuit to protect athletes everywhere through groundbreaking innovations and product superiority. Xenith is the industry leader in football helmet technology and the company’s mission is to develop and distribute the best equipment in the world. Founded in 2006 by a former Harvard University quarterback and Columbia University physician, all Xenith helmets feature Adaptive Head Protection, a system of patented technologies designed to mitigate rotational and linear forces featuring the Shock Bonnet® Suspension System, Fit Seeker System and Shock Absorbers.

For more information, please visit or engage with us on Twitter @XenithFootball and Facebook.

About Fulton Financial

Developed in Based in London, ON, Fulton Financial provides a full suite of financial services products. 

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