Shaun Smith won a state wrestling title at Dover High, in part, because of his father. Same for those three national titles in college.
And Smith still coaches college wrestling - going on 15 years at his alma mater, Delaware Valley College - because he feels he needs to give back, to help others the way his father helped him.
"My whole life, he did everything for us," Smith said. "He was always there for our sports, always at my football games.
"Even as a little kid, my dad would be drawing the lines on the field, and I was always by his side."
It was in 1983, in Shaun Smith's senior year of high school, that his father, Lamar, died of a heart attack two days before the sectional wrestling tournament.
Said older brother, Keith Smith: "I got the phone call and (my mom and brother) sounded like they were laughing, they were crying that hard. I just rushed into the hospital and saw my mom's face . . . (Shaun) was in a room, just looking around, completely crushed."
How could the kid wrestle in two days? How could he deal with trying to win the one state title everyone thought he should have already have won?
But somehow, he dealt with death and overcame a badly injured knee to win districts and states.
"I don't want to say it helped me, but I focused more," Shaun Smith said. "Everything he taught me I thought of more. My father and wrestling, I couldn't think of anything else. It was just like tunnel vision for me.
"To me, my father was still there with me . . . Even to this day, there's times when I'm working and little things happen, and I always talk to my dad to get some help and something good will happen, and I think it's because of him."
Take the time his college team's best wrestler lost his mother and father within a year. The kid was struggling, especially away from wrestling. Smith had the experience and confidence to sit him down and encourage and teach him.
"He was kind of lashing out in different ways and doing some stupid things," Smith said. "I kind of told him, 'You've got to remember your father, he's still here with you and still looking down on you, and you need to do the right things."
It's one of the stories that keeps him going after 15 years.
"A lot of people put so much time into me, and I was taught so much from so many different people. It would be kind of stupid not to let other people know what I learned."
Sometimes it's those wrestlers, his wrestlers, who will ask about his own days on the mat.
Reluctantly, he reveals the highlights.
If they ask enough, he might even tell them about being an all-league defensive back on the football team and a No. 1 singles player in tennis.
But mostly it's about wrestling. Older brother Keith won back-to-back state wrestling titles and showed him how to outwork everybody.
His brothers and mother looked after him, taking the place, in a way, of the most important person his life.
He carries that with him always.
"They all kind of kept me together (after my father died)," Shaun Smith said. "When that happened, I was lost."
And now he's found, in a way.
All these years later, he swears that the man is still guiding him on.
Reach Frank Bodani at 771-2104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.