NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - "Our thoughts and prayers are with Will and his wife Racquel, but more importantly with their children, William, Wynter and Lisa who are suffering and just starting to realize and deal with an unimaginable loss," said Tom and Gayle Benson. "We are devastated and saddened by Will's tragic and preventable death due to a senseless act that will leave a lasting scar on our community forever. Will was more than an exceptional football player he was a father, a husband, a son, a brother and teammate to so many and an inspiration to countless more. He will be greatly missed by all those he touched and impacted both on and off the football field and his legacy will continue to shine. The Saints family is hurting and devastated as it has lost a member too young and too soon."
"Our entire organization is deeply saddened and our condolences go out to Will's wife, Racquel, their children and their entire family," said Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis. "Will came to New Orleans 12 years ago and quickly developed both on the field as a player and off the field as a leader to become one of the cornerstones of a team that would go on to win a Super Bowl. In our community he was an important contributor to numerous charitable causes to benefit those in need. Will's contributions to both our franchise and our community as a whole will always be remembered."
Since originally being selected by the Saints in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft with the 18th overall pick out of Ohio State, Smith made New Orleans home and played for the team for his entire 10-year career from 2004-13, where he was a force on the football field, a team and locker room leader both on and off it as a defensive team captain and along with his wife Racquel, extremely generous with their time and support towards numerous charitable activities and initiatives.
Smith made an immediate impact on the football field for the Saints as a rookie in 2004, when he recorded 7.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. Two seasons later in 2006, he led the club with 10.5 takedowns and added three forced fumbles as he powered a club defensively that reached the NFC Championship for the first time and he was selected to the Pro Bowl. The following season, Smith was named a defensive team captain in his fourth season as a professional. In 2009, Smith started all 16 games and posted a career-high 13 sacks to rank second in the NFC, adding 77 tackles (42 solo), his first career interception, four passes defensed and three forced fumbles as New Orleans captured Super Bowl XLIV. Overall, Smith appeared in 139 career games with 120 starts for the Saints and posted career totals of 618 tackles (363 solo), 67.5 sacks, two interceptions, 24 passes defensed, 19 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. Smith's takedown total ranks fourth in club record books.
Just as important though to the driving force and outstanding player that Smith was on the field, several important charitable causes were just as big winners on behalf of his generosity as the entire Saints organization, coaches, players and fans were of his gameday accomplishments. Smith and his wife Racquel formed the "Where There's a Will There's a Way" foundation to mentor, assist and provide educational support to at-risk children throughout Louisiana and in his hometown of Utica, New York, where he went to high school and was raised as a youth after being originally born in New York City. Kingsley House and Bridge House/Grace House were two charities that were a large part of their focus. Annually since 2012, Smith and his wife hosted the Smith Family Christmas event for families selected by Kingsley House, that provides nationally accredited and state certified programs to thousands of infants, youths, adults, parents, senior citizens and mentally fragile adults throughout Southeast Louisiana. Often held at the Saints practice facility, the couple provided 60 families with a holiday meal, Christmas gifts from Santa Claus and a behind-the-scenes tour of the club's practice facilities. Also annually since 2011, the Smiths and their foundation were a sponsor of an annual celebrity waiter event to benefit Bridge House and Grace House, whose mission is provide treatment to men and women who have become dependent on drugs and alcohol to help lead them to live sober and productive lives. In addition to his foundation's financial support, Smith enlisted several of his teammates to serve as celebrity waiters for the event, even after his playing career had come to an end. In his hometown of Utica, Smith sponsored an annual "Evening With All-Stars" dinner for the past eight years, honoring the region's high school football stars, an event for which he would also serve as a guest speaker annually.