The Chronicle’s View: A U unlike any other

By and

Let the chanting begin: We’re number one! We’re number one!

Or at least former U quarterback, football hero and all-around athletic icon, Alex Smith, is.

In a final record-making performance, Smith was selected as the No. 1 NFL draft pick Saturday.

Smith’s selection in the draft marks not only a first for the athlete in terms of excellence, but also in terms of history: In the history of the U, Smith is the first football player to ever be selected No. 1 in the draft.

Though the U has come close to the No. 1 spot on several occasions-Jordan Gross was selected eighth overall in 2003, and Kevin Dyson was taken No. 16 in 1998-Smith is the first Ute to take first, ever.

However, while the feat is remarkable, it is not surprising-Smith had a history of firsts in his time at the U.

As a quarterback, Smith led the U football team to its first-ever BCS championship game. Better still, he led his team to their first-ever victory in the Fiesta Bowl. Under his guidance, the U football team was ranked No. 4 nationally, its highest-ever ranking.

Smith was named MWC Offensive Player of the year, Sports Illustrated Player of the Year and Sporting News Player of the year, also notably.

And it gets even better: Though Smith’s achievement is undeniably impressive, it is made all the more so by its impact on the entire U community at large.

Smith is a symbol of our school, and thus, his victory, just as the success of the U football team last year, the men’s basketball team this March and the women’s gymnastics team just last week, are victories indicative of more than just stellar athletic ability-they are victories indicative of a mentality and a pride that the U can boast as its very own.

Whether or not people are aware of it, our athletic programs-and their monumental successes-are a result of an overall personal and institutional dynamic at the U.

Simply put, ours is a school of excellence-we pride ourselves in the quality of our education, the diversity of our intellectual community and the ability of our athletic programs. And make no mistake: All of the above are interrelated, and could not exist were it not for each other.

Think about it. Why are students, both athletic and otherwise, drawn to our school? It’s defiantly not its proximity to scandalous beaches, nor is it its notoriety as an all-out party campus.

No, it’s something deeper and more intuitive.

In its history as a school, and more specifically, in the past five years, the U has forged for itself a reputation as one of the pre-eminent competitive higher education institutions, and this reputation is alluring.

Our football team wins BCS Bowl games. Our basketball team defies all expectations. Our gymnastics program might as well be preceded by the title “Dynasty.”

Academically, we are one of the best schools in the West-our research programs are largely unparalleled, our law school and medical programs are renowned in our region and the quality of academic life for our undergraduates-despite the U’s commuter-campus nature-is well known.

Put it all together, and producing stellar athletes and scholars like Alex Smith doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

And trust us, it isn’t.