Virginia Lacrosse Legend Tommy Smith Dies Unexpectedly


Tommy Smith, a three-time All-American defenseman at Virginia who in 2021 was one of 12 players named to the Blaxers Blog/USA Lacrosse All-Time Black Lacrosse Team, died unexpectedly Nov. 2. He was 49.

A central New York native and the son of a college football official, Smith starred at Virginia in the mid-1990s as the defensive cornerstone of Hall of Fame coach Dom Starsia’s first recruiting class.

“Smitty was the straw that stirred our D and he can rightly be called a main reason the Virginia defense became known as one of the most hard-nosed units in the country,” his teammate Drew Fox wrote in a letter to Virginia lacrosse alumni obtained by Inside Lacrosse.

Smith was inducted to the Upstate New York Hall of Fame in 2014 and Fayetteville-Manlius Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017.

According to his obituary, Smith “struggled with alcoholism through the years and was working hard toward his goal of sobriety in his last days.”

A high school All-American at Fayetteville-Manlius, Smith chose to attend Virginia over Syracuse despite the latter school’s legacy of Black lacrosse players succeeding there. In an interview last year with longtime Virginia sports beat writer Jeff White, he said Starsia’s candor won him over. The Cavaliers had two other Black players at the time in defensive midfielders Woody Moore and Mark Dixon.

“Dom was open and honest,” Smith said. “He was like, ‘Listen, guys, I don’t care what color you are. I care about your character.’”

A two-time Virginia captain, Smith was a part of the same recruiting class as Hall of Famers Michael Watson and Doug Knight. The Cavaliers advanced to the NCAA championship game in 1994 and 1996, losing to Princeton in both finals. Smith was named to the NCAA All-Tournament team in 1996.

Smith worked in advertising and marketing for ESPN and the Tennis Channel. He started coaching in recent years, serving as the defensive coordinator at Ridgefield (Conn.) High School and as a member of the Eclipse Lacrosse Club staff.

“Tommy had an abiding appreciation and respect for the Onondaga Nation, where he played lacrosse in his youth under the guidance of Freeman Bucktooth and Greg Gibson,” his obituary stated. “He was passionate about teaching lacrosse to young people.”

Ridgefield head coach Roy Colsey played against Smith at Syracuse and has worked with him the last three years. A Hall of Fame player and an assistant coach for the U.S. Men’s Box National Team, Colsey told the Syracuse Post Standard that Smith would have been a candidate to take over the team after he retires following the 2024 season.

“He had a huge heart,” Colsey said. “One of the nicest guys you could ever meet.”

Smith is survived by his ex-wife, Molly Walsh, and their three daughters, Katie, Maddie and Lila. Visitation hours are Friday 4-7 p.m. EDT at Burns-Garfield Funeral Home in Syracuse, N.Y. Funeral services are Saturday.


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