(INDIO) – A good tree, says the scriptures, will produce good fruit.

For towering 6-5, 330-pound SoCal tackle Rapheal Smiley, a rising leader in the Coyotes ‘Above the Line’ culture, this hasn’t always been an easy task. His roots run deep, all the way to the east side of Detroit, where a flat-lined economy undermines its city’s youth, and fuels the waiting gangs and drug dealers that perpetuate failure from block to block.

But the Smiley household was grounded in faith, and nurtured by two powerful examples. His parents – Karen and Willie Smiley – trained up Rapheal and his two brothers and sisters in the way they should go. Both parents worked long hours each day in the auto factories to generate positive options for their kids. Love was abundant. Routine was mandatory. Hard work, expected. Healthy choices, available.

The 6-5, 330-pound Smiley (54) is a ‘big’ influence in the SoCal Coyotes youth leadership curriculum

Basketball was his first love, but by the eighth grade, football was his dominant sport.  By the 10th grade, his father told Rapheal he had the call of God on his life, and encouraged him deeper and deeper into his faith.

“God is going to use you in mighty ways, son,” predicted Willie.

Smiley excelled as an offensive lineman at Mumford High School, and football became his ticket. By the time he graduated from Langston University, he had blossomed into a quarterback-protecting fortress, which led to pro football’s doorstep and successful Arena football opportunities.

Last year, Smiley was introduced to the SoCal Coyotes, and he flew west to the Coachella Valley to continue his journey. “It has completely made a difference in my life,” Smiley says. A giant teddy-bear among kids, Smiley instantly became a popular speaker in the team’s middle-school programs, teaching thousands of youth how an ‘Above the Line’ life – skillful, intentional, driven and on-purpose – requires no apologies.

“It’s all about choices,” he says of his passion for teaching youth. Meanwhile, Smiley anchored the left side of the Coyotes offensive line on the 2016 team that went undefeated, and parlayed his game film with America’s #1 Developmental Football Program™ into another Arena opportunity, where he won another championship.

Smiley and Coyotes Athletic Director Robert L. Cummings, who also pastors Palm Desert Christian Center

But as fall 2017 approached, that calling his father once spoke of welled inside him. “My process is to walk by faith, not by sight,” Smiley says. “The Coyotes are much more than just football. The Lord played a big part in my decision to get on that plane in Detroit. I came back here to serve Him and be a part of this ministry.”

Fear, he says, comes from “not listening, not hearing, not knowing what to expect. Faith is the opposite. It comes from hearing, from leaning on the promises of God, which requires a relationship, which causes a reaction, which results in a transformation of the mind, body and spirit.”

Smiley encourages teens to renew their minds, lean on God’s promises, and not get mired in their problems. As an offensive lineman, protecting others comes natural, and he’s accustomed to shouldering the load. Not surprisingly, he gets personally involved in the challenges of the youth and young adults he encounters.

“God burdens me with the needs of others,” Smiley says. “When I’m exposed to their situations, right in my face, I have to respond,” he says. “I pray for them daily. I pray for their strength, for hope, for a positive future. I pray for their guidance and for doors of opportunity to open.”

Everywhere Smiley goes, he plants those same positive seeds that have helped him blossom into a mighty oak. Today, Rapheal deeply respects his mom’s example of “what hard work looks like.” He’s grateful for his dad’s discipline that kept him grounded in Christ and set his course.

Make no mistake, this gentle giant intends to become an orchard of opportunity.

“In the next 10 years, I see myself as married, raising my kids, and giving back to my community,” Smiley says. “I see myself as a humble entrepreneur, an honest worker for Christ, a man who provides for everyone around him. God has placed all the foundations around me.

“My story shows what can happen if you’re willing to accept the plan that God has for you, have the courage to try, and the faith to go do it.”

(Rapheal Smiley and his teammates seek their third victory of the 2017 season this Saturday, September 16, at 1 p.m. at Shadow Hills Stadium.)


The SoCal Coyotes are the national standard of American developmental football. The Coyotes non-profit organization provides elite athletes a professional environment that refines and showcases their skills through trademarked processes similar to the NBA’s D-league and MLB’s minor-league systems.

NFL executives have named the SoCal Coyotes organization America’s #1 Developmental Football Program™ for its national, scalable brands, community outreach programs, five-year operating track record, verifiable data, youth curriculum, sales, public-private sector alliances, and measured results.

Visit The SoCal Coyotes Facebook.

-SVP Ron DiGrandi ([email protected])


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