CLEVELAND (AP) – Troy Smith had spent days keeping it all together.

Through the whirlwind trip to New York, the nerve-racking Heisman Trophy ceremony, the endless photo sessions and interviews, Ohio State’s quarterback had remained poised and polished, as unflappable off the field as on it.

But standing in front of the people who helped raise him, love him and know him best, Smith could no longer hold back his tears.

Presented with the No. 7 jersey he wore as a senior at Glenville High School, Smith broke down and wept.

And, a proud community cried along with him.

On Wednesday, Smith came home to a hero’s welcome as the city celebrated one of its sons winning the Heisman with an emotional celebration at Glenville, “Home of the Mighty Tarblooders,” the school Smith has credited with saving his life. More than 1,000 people packed into the east side school’s gymnasium for the nearly two-hour ceremony. After taking his seat on a stage adorned with scarlet and gray balloons and photos of him leading the top-ranked Buckeyes, Smith listened intently as school administrators, politicians and students praised him.

“You have stayed focused in the classroom, the football field and in life,” said Dr. Eugene Sanders, CEO of Cleveland schools. “Out of Cleveland, Ohio, came greatness. Out of Cleveland, Ohio, came excellence.”

Smith was given several proclamations by area politicians and he was handed a key to Cleveland by Mayor Frank Jackson, who declared Dec. 13, 2006, “Troy Smith Day.”

Later, Ted Ginn Sr., Glenville’s coach and a father figure to Smith, began his remarks by introducing the current Tarblooders team as well as youth teams from the area who came to pay tribute to Smith.

“This is the present, and that’s the future,” Ginn said, pointing to the Glenville Titans, a team Smith played for as a kid. Then, Ginn Sr. unveiled Smith’s black-and-red Glenville jersey. As the crowd gasped and rose to its feet, the All-American QB whose steady hand has kept Ohio State on top all season, broke down.

Ginn, too, was overcome with emotion and had to stop his speech several times.

“It wasn’t always easy,” Ginn said, recalling the tough love he gave to Smith. “But Troy’s accomplishment is no surprise to me.”

Basheer Jones, a longtime friend of Smith’s, recalled a conversation the two had in the summer after they were in seventh grade. Sitting in the basement at Smith’s house, they cried together because they wanted better lives for their families.

That day, they vowed to make a difference.

“He told me, ‘I’m going to win the Heisman and play in the NFL,”‘ Jones said. “I believed him.”

Jones then read, “A Rose that Grows in the Concrete,” a poem he wrote that was partly inspired by Smith.

“It has no idea why it grows, but it does,” said Jones, who then pointed to Smith. “This is the example, from the concrete grows a rose.”

Following the ceremony, Smith was asked how the day’s events stacked up against the many memorable ones he has had of late.

“This definitely ranks at the top,” he said. “I’m a Tarblooder through and through. That’s me.”

Smith still has one more game to play as the No. 1 Buckeyes (12-0) will meet No. 2 Florida (12-1) in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz. After that, it will be on to the NFL and playing for pay on Sundays.

What would Smith think of the chance to play for his hometown Cleveland Browns?

“I have dreamed about it and talked about it countless times with my mother,” he said. “All she talks about is saving the Browns. If that were to happen, that would be a dream come true because I could stay in the community and give back.”

Smith has already begun giving back, serving as a role model for young men who dream of getting off the tough inner-city streets. The 22-year-old has a bigger vision for what he can do for others.

“I know you are supposed to think national and international, but I want to make Ohio the best state in the nation,” he said. “I want to make it where people say, ‘I want to take a vacation in Ohio. I want to live in Ohio.’

“I don’t appreciate people from this city and state saying, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get to somewhere where it’s hot.’ Put your Timberlands on and your leather coat, that’s what made you who you are.”

AP-ES-12-13-06 1903EST

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