TAMPA -- Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith's 10-year-old nephew Aiden has nonverbal autism, so working to raise awareness and money for research is something that's become close to him.
Last year, he held his first bowling event to benefit Autism Speaks. He worked with the organization on World Autism Awareness Day to provide local autistic students with a trip to Legoland in Winter Haven. When NFL players wore cleats highlighting organizations close to them, Smith wore Autism Speaks cleats.
On Monday, Smith will host his second bowling benefit at Pin Chasers in Tampa, which 100 percent of the proceeds going to Autism Speaks.
We chatted with Smith about a variety of subjects this week, including his nephew, his charity event, his love for bowling, as well as transitioning to a new Bucs new coaching staff and a new offense.
We’ll have a story in Monday’s Tampa Bay Times that delves deeper into Smith’s relationship with his nephew and how he’s served as an inspiration for Smith.
As much work as you’ve done raising awareness about autism, I’m sure you’ve gained a lot yourself through the process. What have you learned about autism as you’ve become more involved?
You just really get a feel for the different ends of the spectrum with autism. There are all these different types of things where you’re able to just learn from being around. Some kids they don’t like this, some kids there’s things they can handle and other things they can’t. You’re just learning along the way. That’s why I think it’s cool because not only am I able to get out there and raise awareness, I’m still learning as I’m going through as well.
So tell us about your bowling event on Monday.
It’s just going to be a fun night, a fun event. There’s going to be music, food, raffles for you to be able to win prizes. I’ve got a list of about 25 teammates who have verified with me: Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy, Beau Allen, Ali Marpet and the list keeps going on. Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard. It’s just going to be a time where everybody is on a lane and the way I plan on doing it is every lane is going to have a specific player, so that way that group of bowlers can interact with them and have fun. If you want to call it Bowling With a Jock, you can call it Bowling with a Jock. It’s going to be fun though.
So why bowling? Is it something you did as a kid or with your family?
It’s a family thing. My mom bowls, my brother bowls, my sister bowls, my grandmother used to bowl. It’s just something to do. You can go out there and it doesn’t take much to know how to bowl. You can go out there and have fun and just kick back and relax and just enjoy it. You can listen to music, you can just dance in between frames and stuff.
Sounds like you’re pretty serious. So how much do you bowl these days?
With me traveling not that much, but really it just depends. Sometimes twice a week, three times a week. When I finish in the facility, sometimes I'll go and bowl two or three games, just to get some in. I have a bag and five or six balls and everything.
You have a new head coach and a new staff. There’s a lot of new faces around. How’s the vibe around the complex as the team conducts offseason workouts?
The vibe is great. Obviously it's been real good being able to have meetings and get in the playbook and get to know the staff and be out there a little bit with them. The vibe around the building's been great. A lot of competition. A lot of fun with the end goal being the Super Bowl, so to be able to bring that intensity and spark is huge.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive tackle Donovan Smith (76) shows off his cleats. Smith wore cleats in support of Autism Speaks.
What are your early impressions of Bruce Arians?
He’s a straight-forward guy, straight and to the point. He’s going to tell you it like it is. You may not like it, but at the end of the day he’s coming to you like a man and he’s telling you the truth.
When you signed your contract in the offseason, you talked about becoming a more vocal leader and being even more involved in the community. How have yourself in those roles so far?
You've just got to get in where you fit in. You just find that niche and lock on to it. But for me, I just wanted to make it a point to get out in the community and lead by example. That's how I like to do things.
How does knowing the team’s invested in you and that you’re going to be here a while help with finding that role?
It sounds crazy, but as a player, once of your biggest goals is to get to the second contract. That's what they always say. But yeah, it's great to be able to have that security moving forward and knowing the team has that much faith in you and they're saying, 'You're our guy.' It's huge and its a blessing.
There are a few questions about the offensive line going into the season, especially along the right side. What are going to be the keys to gaining the kind of cohesiveness you’ll need up front?
We’ve just got to go out there and play our best ball and be out best selves out there and not do too much and just make sure we establish the line of scrimmage from start to finish. Start fast, play physical and just get into that good offensive line play and that’s really it. Just make sure we;re all on the same page and really understand each other.
With the new staff installing a new offense, how much different or your assignments on the line?
I mean, tackles block ends, guards block defensive tackles, centers block nose guards. It’s really all the same somehow someway. Obviously they have their little kinks and stuff, but at the end of the day you’ve still got to block the same people.
When the Chargers announced they were going to the old powder blue uniforms as their primary home uniforms last month, you sent out a tweet asking if the Bucs could go back to the old creamsicle uniforms for good. Are you starting a campaign here?
I just like, I’m always for new things. Not necessarily something that’s got to be an entire year thing, but I think it would be really cool to have a throwback game to where we’re able to wear those uniforms once a year or something like that, so to me, I just think those were some iconic uniforms in terms of being different so I just thought it would be cool
Donovan Smith’s Second Annual Bowling for Autism
When: Monday from 7-9 p.m.
Where: Pin Chasers, 4847 N. Armenia Ave., Tampa
What: Bucs offensive tackle Donovan Smith will host a charity bowling event to benefit Austism Speaks, an organization that sponsors autism research and promotes awareness and outreach that benefits those affected by autism. One-hundred percent of the proceeds will go to Austism Speaks. Smith and several other Buccaneers players will be in attendance with them. Expected players include Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy, Beau Allen, Ali Marpet, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. The event will also include a raffle, music and food.
Tickets: $100 for adults to participate, $75 for spectators, $50 for children 12 and under.
Pre-register now at act.autismspeaks.org/donovansmithbowl
Register at even starting at 6:30 p.m.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at [email protected] Follow @EddieInTheYard.