Rich Smith, St Cross College MSc in Musculoskeletal Sciences

Rich Smith is a towering presence at centre-back for the Oxford University Blues football team. His footballing pedigree is nothing if not impressive. Kevin Ball – the Sunderland AFC Senior Professional Development Coach and twice caretaker manager of Sunderland – still cites Rich in interviews as an example of a young player who has been successful inside and outside of football. Rich can boast Liverpool’s £20m man Jordan Henderson as well as Sunderland regular Jack Colback as former team mates.

Scouted by Sunderland aged 10 whilst playing in his home town, Durham, for the local Sunday league team, he stayed with the club until he was 18, progressing through the youth setup and earning a contract upon turning 16 years old. As a lad who had supported Sunderland since his elder brother started playing for their academy when Rich was eight, the fairytale was going well.

However, at the time the contract was offered, Rich was forced to make a very difficult decision. Sunderland would not allow any of their youth players to study A-levels in conjunction with their youth contracts. Therefore, despite impressive GCSE results, Rich temporarily decided to turn his back on education and pursue a career in professional football.

Regardless of Rich’s role in helping the Sunderland Youth team win the Premier League Youth Championship with the under-18 squad, by the end of his two year youth contract he felt that he did not have a long-term future in top-level English football.

Although he received the offer of a one year contract extension from the Wearside club, he took the decision to leave,  instead taking his A-levels from age 18 to 20 at his local sixth-form college.

After completing his A-levels Rich was offered a place at Harvard which was partially aided by his profile from Sunderland and his old manager Kevin Ball.

Rich moved to America and his presence garnered immediate success on the football pitch as Rich scored the Ivy League winning goal in his first year in the states. He then went on to captain the Harvard football team in his fourth year. Whilst in America, Rich was given the opportunity to go to the Major League Soccer draft exhibition trial but he deemed that staying in education was the correct decision.

Standing at 6’6”, Rich is always a danger from set pieces and difficult to beat in the air at centre-back. He exemplifies the dedication required to overcome the difficulties of combining academic work with sporting – or other extracurricular – success.

He is clearly impressive in his ability to alternate between the two with apparent ease. Although, Rich admits that maintaining this dual-role is more difficult than it looks: “I do love the game and although it can be stressful at times [combining football and studying], I would not want to be doing anything else.”

This year Rich’s sights are set on helping the Blues to a Varsity win. The dominant centre-back could be crucial for Oxford if this is to occur. He may also try fitting in a bit of Musculoskeletal Science, whatever that is.

The Blues play Oxford Brookes on 14th February at Iffley Road, 7pm kick-off.