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Former Vandy star, CE graduate dies at 71


 

William B. “Boyce” Smith, Jr., 71, who played quarterback at Vanderbilt before becoming a National Football League referee and head of a steel company, passed away June 10 after a lengthy illness.

Smith, who graduated with a degree in civil engineering, arrived at Vanderbilt without a scholarship during the 1950’s and played his way into a scholarship and a starting role. For his career, he was 125 of 260, for 1,663 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Smith never forgot the friendships he made as an undergraduate during the late 1950s.

An undersized, overachieving athlete from Springfield, Tenn., Smith’s closest friends throughout life remained the teammates he shared from a three-year varsity career that began after the Vanderbilt Gator Bowl campaign in 1955.

Long removed from his Vanderbilt football days, Smith and teammates Charley Horton, Don Orr and Art Demmas kept a Saturday morning tee time reserved for years at Nashville’s Hillwood Country Club.

Smith, 71, died Tuesday morning at his Nashville home after a long fight against cancer. Smith is survived by his wife, Dorothy; sons, Buddy and David; and daughter, Ashley.

Many of those Vanderbilt teammates, including the 1956 co-captain and All-SEC tackle Demmas, stayed close to Smith until his final hours. “Boyce was just a great guy and wonderful friend. We loved him so much,” Demmas said. “I just saw him Sunday, and I walked out from his house with tears in my eyes. He was courageous to the end.”

The son of a legendary high school coach and principal in Springfield, Smith entered Vanderbilt in 1955 without a football scholarship. As the Commodore upperclassmen marched toward the Gator Bowl, Head Coach Art Guepe took notice of Smith’s abilities and work ethic on the practice field, rewarding his fiery freshman with a scholarship by the end of the season.

When the team reported for fall practice in 1956, the 5-10, 160-pound Smith drew the last quarterback jersey, then went about his business trying to make the travel squad.

Smith’s fortunes quickly turned when Orr, the team’s Gator Bowl hero and Smith’s fraternity brother, suffered a serious injury early in the season. With limited options, Guepe turned to the untested sophomore Smith to led the squad.

Smith proved quite a leader. He helped the Commodores to a 5-5 record as a sophomore, winning SEC Player of the Week honors for a stellar performance in a 12-7 victory over Kentucky. The next season, Smith guided the team to a 5-3-2 record, including wins over Georgia, Penn State and LSU. In Smith’s senior season, the Commodores went 5-2-3, including conference ties against Alabama, Florida and Kentucky. The two losses were by a total of nine points.

Smith, named third-team All-SEC by the Associated Press as a junior, finished his Vanderbilt career by completing 125 of 260 passes for 1,663 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also averaged 33 yards as the team’s three-year starting punter.

“Gitty, that was Boyce, just real gitty. He was a great competitor on the football field,” Demmas said.

Smith developed a successful dual professional life after graduating from Vanderbilt with a civil engineering degree. For many years, he operated Boyce Steel. In his later years, Boyce owned an insurance agency, Smith & Associates, with his oldest son.

Private business didn’t keep Smith from returning to the game he loved. Joining Orr, Horton and Demmas, Smith began a second career officiating football games. Starting as a Tennessee high school official, Smith quickly advanced to officiate Southeastern Conference games, then on to officiate nine years in the National Football League. All four of the Vanderbilt teammates earned tremendous reputations as officials: Orr, Demmas and Smith spent many years in the NFL; Horton became known as one of the SEC’s top referees, officiating numerous postseason bowls.