Linden boys’ volleyball coach no stranger to taking on new roles

PHOTO COURTESY OF GARY MILLER – Linden boys’ volleyball coach Jimmy Smith, holding on to the ball, is with his captains – from left – Dan Rodrigues, Justin Velasco and Joe Rojas.

Jimmy Smith is no stranger to taking on new roles in Linden Public Schools.
He has been with the district for five years, and in that time he has worked in the technology department; coached five different positions as an assistant with the Linden High School football team; been a replacement physical education teacher at School No. 6; and now is the full-time phys ed teacher at School No. 5.
So it’s no surprise that he is ready to step up to the challenge as the new boys volleyball coach at LHS.
Smith, who graduated from Kean University in 2017 with a degree in physical education, is setting high goals for the team in his first year at the helm. The Tigers competed in the county and state tournaments last year, and he’d like to see them go even further this year.
“I have some high expectations for these kids and they’re holding themselves up to it,” he said.
Athletic Director Steven Viana said he is thrilled to have Smith as the new coach.
“Coach Smith brings a myriad of coaching experience to the table with the variety of roles that he has served thus far in our district,” he said. “We are confident that he will bring the same energy and passion to the sport as he does every day in his classroom. We believe the boys volleyball program will continue to shine under Coach Smith’s direction.”
Smith is taking over a program that started four years ago under head coach Jason Fekete, who is now in his first year as vice principal at Linden High.
“When I first got the job, I went down and talked with Jason,” Smith said. “I’m constantly in contact with him. Little questions here and there that he can answer, he’s been helping me out. He’s been doing a great job with that.”
Smith gives a lot of credit to his three team captains in helping him get off the ground in his first year of coaching volleyball.
“I couldn’t ask for three better kids to start out my first year in the program,” he said of Justin Velasco, Dan Rodrigues and Joe Rojas. “Honestly, I don’t know if I would have been able to do it if it weren’t for them. They’ve been that good in receiving me.
“They take charge and demonstrate all the drills. Then I can just sit back and correct little things or big things. I really lean on these guys, and they lean on me as well.”
Smith graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in Iselin in 2013, but his Linden roots go deep. His parents, Jim and JoAnn, both went to Linden schools, along with their siblings. JoAnn Smith served as a secretary in the Administration Building, working for the assistant superintendent from 2002 to 2013. She served under Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi, as well as former Superintendent Rocco Tomazic. JoAnn Smith died in 2013.
Jimmy Smith coaches the offensive line for the Tigers football team, and has also coached linebackers, wide receivers, defensive backs, and running backs as various points. Though the sports are very different, Smith said there are similar elements in coaching both.
“I’m big on team-building,” he said. “It’s a big switch to me, but I’ve been bringing over a lot of conditioning elements from football, working out with them, watching videos. It’s kind of the same concept as football in that everyone has to be in a certain spot for it to work. That’s what I’m learning now.”
Smith also sees this as another chance to mentor young athletes to be good students and good citizens, in addition to pushing for excellence on the volleyball court.
“I like to hold them accountable for their actions,” he said. “I hold them to pretty high standard and so far it’s worked out pretty well.”