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What Gene Smith’s legacy means to student-athletes

The Lantern
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith will retire in July 2024 after 19 years in charge in Columbus. Credit: Zachary Rilley | Lantern File Photo

Editor’s note: This view of Gene Smith comes directly from Kourt Williams II, a graduate student linebacker on the Ohio State football team. Williams graduated in the spring with his communications degree and is pursuing another in journalism.

Ohio State student-athletes will face the reality of a new athletic director when Gene Smith retires in June 2024, and some said they already miss the relationship they share with their leader of athletics.

Smith, in his 18th year at the helm of Ohio State athletics, is in charge of 36 sports and more than 1,000 student-athletes each year. He announced that he would be leaving his position to spend more time with his family on Aug. 9.

Kamryn Babb, a former Ohio State football team captain, enrolled in 2018 and said Smith was the best athletic director he could have asked for.

Over his five-year Buckeye career, Babb suffered four ACL injuries , but Smith always ensured he would have opportunities inside and outside athletics.

“Since I got on campus, he has not only talked about his love for student-athletes, but he has shown it by his actions,” Babb said. “He has given me the opportunity to not only live my dream by playing college football, but he has given me the best chance to have a job out of college.”

Among the various programs Smith has started to benefit student-athletes off the field is Bucks Go Pro, which provides student-athletes with internship opportunities throughout Columbus.

Smith has also implemented the Eugene D. Smith Leadership Institute, in which athletes get tools and skills to grow as leaders on and off the field, as well as the Next Gen Program, giving student-athletes job opportunities within the athletic department.

Kaitlyn Grimes, a junior gymnast, is part of the Bucks Go Pro program. As a digital media intern, she said Smith always stresses that being a student-athlete will only last for a while and how important it is for them to set themselves up for success in the future.

“Through his program Bucks Go Pro, I was able to develop my professional skills, build connections with others and learn how to be the best leader I can be,” Grimes said.

One person who embodies Smith’s commitment to student-athlete post-career success is Logan Hittle, who played football for Ohio State and now runs the athletic department’s name, image, and likeness program. Hittle is also part of the leadership institute and Bucks Go Pro.

Hittle said Smith has created an environment for student-athletes to be just as successful, if not more successful, off the field compared to on it.

“I’ve been super fortunate,” Hittle said. “The platforms that he has created and programs and initiatives that he’s implemented have allowed former student-athletes to be just as successful off the playing surfaces as they are on it,” he said.

During his retirement press conference, Smith said he looks forward to spending more time with family and enjoying being a grandfather.

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