COLTON, Ore. (KOIN) — To this day, Jenny and Matt will tell Zemar Smith stories of a wound-up child from another time.
Back then, the 6-foot, 220-pound running back was just a child — half the size he is now, but equal the energy. Young Zemar was nonstop, sprinting down the hallway and smacking his head against the counter, all before he’d head to his foster family’s bay window and take off, flipping off the edge.
“I started actually running before walking, ” Zemar recalls.
Running fast and walking tough has always come easy to Zemar, who stars at Colton High School and hopes to play college football after he graduates this spring. Other things in life, though, haven’t been as simple.
“When I was being born, my mom was in labor and she was using,” Zemar said, “and they found her at the hospital and they brought her in.”
Zemar’s mother gave birth to a premature little boy, and the drugs she used were passed down to Zemar. He was immediately taken in by Jenny and Matt, his foster parents. Five days later, the complications after a complicated birth kicked in. Zemar started having seizures. Jenny and Matt brought their foster son back to the hospital.
“I was having withdrawals from the opium,” Zemar said. “So they had to put me back on it and take me off it, little bit by little bit.”
After 2 years with Jenny and Matt, Zemar — now healthy — reunited with his birth mother. The two spent 9 more years together.
Even though Zemar didn’t live with Matt and Jenny anymore, they remained in contact. Zemar would visit them on the weekends, spend holidays together, “and all the good stuff,” he said. And 9 years after Zemar left their home, Matt and Jenny would take a front-seat in Zemar’s life, once again.
“(My birth mom) took me on a drug run and got busted,” Zemar said, “(and she ) called Jenny … her and my mom made a really good connection and that was really good that (Jenny) stuck in my life because I wouldn’t be here without Jenny or my mom.”
As he grew up, Zemar’s energy — the same one that had him flipping out of windows as a kid — blossomed, forcing the need for an outlet. Jenny and Matt encouraged him to try football. His love, as well as his talent for the sport, was apparent.
“I love the physicality … It’s just fun to go out and hit someone you don’t know, you don’t even know,” Zemar said. “It’s just fun to be competitive, I like to be competitive.”
Zemar’s coach finds as much joy in watching his talented running back play.
“He’s fun to watch, he’s six-foot, 220-pounds, runs hard, runs with power, runs with speed, can juke,” said Colton coach Brynie Robinson. “He’s a talented football player.”
Even though Zemar’s life started hard — a premature baby with opium in his system who had to say goodbye to his birth mom not once, but twice — he’s found his place. He’s fallen in love with football, and in return football has given him an unparalleled positivity that he didn’t have before. It’s also allowed him to have a connection with his birth mom, who still texts him good luck messages before each game.
“Before I met (coach Robinson) it was hard — it was hard to be positive (and) it was hard to be happy,” Zemar said.
“I guess I just kind of have to take my mind off all the negative and focus on what I think I can do to make the next day better. When positive, it’s a beautiful thing because (coach Robinson) keeps everybody — he’s just a light so he’s trying to shine bright.”