* Waukee's Aaron Smith followed his heart when he decommitted from Yale to instead pursue an NCAA track and field career
Photo Credit: Zach Boyden Holmes/USA Today Sports Network/Des Moines Register
Last Monday, Waukee (IA) High School senior Aaron Smith made a decision that shocked many around him.
The Yale signee announced he was forgoing his collegiate football future to pursue an NCAA track and field career.
"My love for football and my heart just aren't in it anymore," Smith told the Des Moines Register recently.
"..It's just the older I got and the more I got really into track throughout the years, I've furthered myself in track more than I have in football. Football slowly became a background sport that I just continued to play through high school."
What makes Smith's story particularly interesting, though, is not why he made the decision but when.
We've encountered stories before of athletes who have opted for track over football, though a majority of those athletes often make those decisions long before futures fully form.
This past fall, the three-star Smith was so deeply embedded in football that his future was already mapped out: He signed with Yale.
It's not often that an athlete switches course so late. Smith did so just two days before The Drake Relays.
And it he did so without really having a full season since 2019, when he finished fifth at the Iowa State Track and Field Championships in the 400m.
Two years ago, he ran 48.24 seconds at the distance, which was the No. 17 best effort in the sophomore class for the year.
So far in 2021, he's gone 11.16 in the 100m, 22.09 in the 200m and 49.37 in the 4x400. His 400m time would rank him just inside the top 200 athletes at the distance this spring.
Now, it also should be said that Smith is a very good football recruit.
He reportedly received as many as 20 college scholarship offers, including from the likes of Air Force, Harvard, Navy, Northern Iowa and Army.
The combo athlete was projected to be anywhere from a running back to a receiver to a kick returner, and most importantly, he was headed to the Ivy League. In a lot of ways, it seemed like he was still an untapped prospect.
At least to those who followed Smith or tracked him, his future was only growing: The Des Moines Register ranked Smith as high as No. 19 on its list of the top 40 prospects in Iowa.
But sometimes, you just have to do what you have to do.
It turns out, Smith's love had always been track first, football second.
The Des Moines Register also reported that Smith had seriously deep ties within his family: Four members of his extended family have competed at Power 5 programs in track and field; his grandfather even ran at Iowa State and is in the Hall of Fame.
So maybe it was shock to some, relief for others.
As for the timing? There could be some possible concerns.
The onset of added eligibility for NCAA athletes as a result of the pandemic has created a logjam on NCAA rosters, and that glut could create issues for incoming recruits. The allocation of scholarship money could be a tricky situation.
There's also the process of jumpstarting something that was seemingly dead.
The Des Moines Register reported that when Smith committed to Yale, almost every interested track and field program ceased their recruitment.
But there is good news, too.
On a very broad level, Smith is a very promising 400m runner. As a sophomore, he finished fifth at the Iowa Class 4A State Track and Field Championships, producing a personal record of 48.24 seconds. He broke 50 seconds a total of five times that same season.
And while talent might need work, it doesn't disappear.
With the right training plan and work, he could very well finish his season with a handful of PRs in the 100m , 200m and 400m.
From a collegiate perspective, there's hope, too.
While his 100m and 200m times need some fine-tuning -- he hasn't broken 11 seconds or 22 seconds, respectively, in either race -- Smith could be an asset worth developing for a number of programs around the country.
The future remains bright.