As a Fiesta Bowl Committee member, Scottsdale’s Nick Smith may wear their yellow jackets now, but 30 years ago, he was all about blue and gold.
Smith attended the fabled University of Notre Dame – whose school colors are blue and gold – from 1989-1992 and played linebacker for the Fighting Irish under legendary coach Lou Holtz.
“Coach Holtz always imparted on us to live our lives by answering three simple questions,” Smith said.
The first question: Can I trust you?
“Coach always said to be someone people can trust; strive to always do what is right,” Smith said.
The second question: Are you committed to excellence?
“Coach said people will see your commitment to excellence through your preparation and the amount of pride to put into everything you do,” Smith said. “Always be prepared and always give 110 percent.”
The third question: Do you care enough?
“This one really stuck with me. He always said that if people care, anything is possible,” Smith said.
“My father would always say that ‘the right thing’ and ‘the hard thing’ lived on the same street, an allegory about making choices in this life,” Smith said. “Often, in order to follow the right path, there are going to be hard decisions, hard trials and hard moments along the way. But that doing what was right was always worth dealing with those hard neighbors on that street.”
These two men’s words would carry Smith throughout his life.
After graduating from Notre Dame, Smith played in the Canadian Football League in 1993. That same year, he and his college roommate Irv Smith moved to Scottsdale to put down roots.
Within the year, they opened their first business: Smoothie King.
They grew the business from one location to 12 across Arizona, eventually exiting the business in 2009.
Next, Smith then joined a human resources business called HR Betty in 2010 and rose to be its president in 2012. “That same year, I learned of the opportunity to join the Fiesta Bowl organization,” Smith said.
He quickly fell in love with its mission, which is to enhance organizations that contribute to the success of their communities through youth, sports and education.
Through its two annual bowl games in the Valley, the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl and the Cheez-It Bowl, as well as community events throughout the year, Fiesta Bowl Charities has given more than $15.5 million across Arizona in the last nine years, including $3 million this year.
“Talk about worlds colliding,” Smith said. “By joining the Yellow Jackets and the Fiesta Bowl, I could impact those in need through football in a way. It was a match made in heaven.”
Smith dove into volunteer and fundraising opportunities and was named the organization’s Rookie of the Year for 2012-13.
That next year, Smith remained committed to the Fiesta Bowl’s mission, and also began volunteering and coaching at his son’s school – fittingly, Notre Dame Preparatory.
“I coached my son and his teammates as freshmen, and eventually joined the varsity coaching team, where I still work as the defensive coordinator,” Smith said.
His son is now a sophomore at USC. He also has a 28-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old daughter, who will graduate San Diego State next year.
Given his penchant for kids and coaching football, it’s no surprise Smith’s favorite charitable giving program within the Fiesta Bowl realm is its annual football clinics for at-risk youth.
“We took the Notre Dame Prep football team out there with me the last few years to volunteer,” Smith said.
He’s hoping he inspired the players to be good men, just like his father and Holtz did for him.
Beyond the clinic, 40 Arizona nonprofit organizations will benefit from Fiesta Bowl support this year. The impact for 2019-2020 at-a-glance includes: a million people served, 600,000 youth impacted, 283,480 meals served, 10,000 books for underserved youth to enhance early language and literacy, 61,000 kids received STEM programming in underserved and rural communities and six playgrounds donated.
“Another recent program I’m especially proud of is Wishes for Teachers, powered by DriveTime,” Smith said. “Through the program, we granted 200 wishes at $5,000 each to Arizona teachers, totaling $1 million given in one day.”
Smith, who serves on the executive team at National PEO, a company owned by Vensure Employer Services, is serving as the chairman-elect of the Yellow Jacket Committee and actively promoting individual tickets for the 2019 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl and 31st annual Cheez-It Bowl, which are on sale and make all of the giving possible.
His duties come December will include hosting one of the semifinal teams, after being media operations committee chairman for two seasons.
He will serve as the committee chairman in 2020 – the organization’s 50th anniversary season.