Tracey Sellers, Smith's mother, recognized her son was talented in the classroom - at art and academics - and placed him in gifted programs. He was so advanced, it was recommended he be moved up a few grades. But Sellers wanted him to stay with his peers and not move through school too quickly.
"I think I have a creative mind from all the psychological tests I've taken and all that kind of stuff,'' he said. "I'm a creative thinker, and that's helped me out tremendously growing up.''
He received a scholarship to Norland Middle School's magnet art program, which he attended from the sixth through eighth grades. While there, he mastered using pretty much anything he could put to paper: pencil, pen, charcoal pens, charcoal sticks, acrylic pens, watercolors and acrylic paints.
While still playing football and trying to balance it with homework and artwork, Smith put together an impressive portfolio and submitted it to two art schools in New York and two others in the Miami area.
He was accepted by all four.
"Right then and there, I had a decision to make whether it was art or sports,'' Smith said. "Obviously, I chose the latter.''
Smith became a huge football star at Miramar High, capping his career there by leading the team as a senior to the state 6A semifinals. He then chose to attend West Virginia after also receiving offers from other big-time programs such as Alabama, Boston College, Florida State and South Florida.
With the Mountaineers, Smith established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the country with an eye-popping mix of skill and athleticism. He set various school records along the way, and had NFL teams drooling at the prospect of him being a part of their future.
And Smith, who recently told the team's website he'd like to emulate Michael Jordan in terms of his success and leadership, attributes a lot of his success on the field to his art background.
"It really made me pay attention to detail,'' he said. "That's something that's huge. It still helps me to this day because I can see things on the field: angles, geometrics, and I think that played a huge role in things with football.''
A few days ago, the Jets were practicing at SUNY Cortland when quarterbacks coach David Lee told a few of the players to stop and look around at their surroundings. It took Smith back to his youth for a moment as he stared out at the green hills and trees outlining the campus.
"That's usually what artists will paint,'' Smith said. "They'll take pictures of stuff like that or just sit down right there and paint it and it'll become a great painting. It was a great reminder to me that every single thing we look at every day is tied into art.
"That's what's unique about it.''
He stays low key about his affection for art, and frankly doesn't have much time for it these days. Not when he's trying to win the starting quarterback job with the Jets.
"I'm pretty sure these guys have heard about it, but I don't think they really care much,'' Smith said with a big smile. "That's really not for the cool kids, you know? The guys around here are the cool kids. Art is for the so-called nerds, and I'm one of those guys.
"But I love playing football and I love being a quarterback.
"I look at this as my art now.''