UTICA — The stretch of Armory Drive between Tilden and Hilton avenues will be renamed in honor of the late Thomas R. Proctor High School and New Orleans Saints football star Will Smith.
The ordinance to rename the section of street to Will Smith Memorial Way was passed unanimously during Wednesday’s Utica Common Council meeting. Three street signs were on display during the meeting, including one in red and black with Smith’s number 80 from Thomas R. Proctor High School and one in Saints’ gold and black with his number 91.
The signs will be placed on the stretch of Armory Drive adjacent to the football field at Thomas R. Proctor High School, along with a plaque with his picture and a tribute from his friends. The signs will be dedicated to Smith during a ceremony tentatively set for Wednesday, Nov. 13, at Thomas R. Proctor High School, said Councilwoman Samantha Colosimo-Testa.
“Obviously everyone from Utica knows who Will Smith was," Colosimo-Testa said. "As a Proctor graduate, it was something that we took pride in and looked forward to."
After his time as a standout defensive end in high school, Smith led Ohio State University to a National Championship in 2002 and was named 2013 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Smith played for the Saints until 2013 after being drafted 18th overall by the team in 2004.
In his 11-year NFL career, Smith helped lead the Saints to a Super Bowl in 2009 and made the Pro Bowl in 2006. He was inducted into the Saints’ Hall of Fame in 2016 and was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor earlier this month.
Smith was gunned down in a road rage incident in New Orleans in April 2016 at age 34.
During his time in the NFL, Smith regularly returned to the Utica area for special events, including the annual Evening of All-Stars dinner that honored the All-Mohawk Valley Football Team. Smith and his wife, Racquel, established the “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way” foundation to mentor, assist and provide educational support for at-risk youth in Louisiana and Utica.