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Will Smith 'is here with us right now, just as proud as ever'

Racquel Smith accepts Saints Hall of Fame honor for her late husband

Photos from the Saints Hall of Fame Luncheon where Will Smith was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame and Hokie Gajan received the Joe Gemelli Fleur de Lis award.

"In my heart, he is here with us today in spirit. There are moments that I feel Will with me and our family, and he is here today. He is here with us right now, just as proud as ever."

Racquel Smith provided emotional, heartfelt words Friday at Chateau Golf and Country Club during the Saints Hall of Fame induction ceremony, her first public offerings since April 9, the night her husband, former Saints defensive end Will Smith, was killed.

Smith was the lone inductee this year. Hokie Gajan, the former Saints player, scout and radio color analyst, also was honored posthumously with the Joe Gemelli "Fleur De Lis Award." Gajan, who was diagnosed in 2015 with liposarcoma, died April 11.

Smith was a unanimous selection in his first year of eligibility for the Saints Hall of Fame. He was New Orleans' first-round draft choice (No. 18 overall) in 2004 and in nine seasons, led the team in sacks four times. He ranks fourth in franchise history with 67.5 sacks and also recorded six fumble recoveries and forced 20 fumbles.

"I remember when he first received the call and he told me about him being inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame," Racquel Smith said. "He was so excited. There's not much that made him excited, except for his kids. When he spoke of his kids, they were definitely the light of his eyes.

"This is different. You could hear it in his voice. This honor meant the world to him."

She also reflected on the night that Will Smith was killed. Smith was shot several times by Cardell Hayes after the two were involved in a couple of auto accidents, and Racquel Smith was shot twice in the legs. Hayes said he acted in self-defense. He has been charged with second-degree murder, and his trial is scheduled to begin in early December.

"On April 9, my worst fears came true," Racquel Smith said. "When my husband was taken from me, I was humbled to my knees, literally. I knew it was only by God's grace that I survived that night.

"I had to learn to walk again. I had severe nerve damage in my left leg, and broke my femur. There were days when I couldn't get out of bed, nor did I want to get out of bed. But I knew that I had to be strong for my three beautiful kids. And that's when I felt Will the most – his strength, his determination, his commitment to being the best. He always wanted to be the best, failure was never an option for my husband.

"Through my darkest days of my life, Will gave me so much. He instilled so much in me and he showed me how to be strong. He always told me, 'Rockie, you can do this.' And I listen to that every day and I think in my head, 'OK, today is another day, but you can do this.' He was a champion and he lived his life as a champion."

 Said Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who was Will Smith's presenter Friday: "(Former Green Bay Packers coach) Vince Lombardi once said that the quality of a man's life is directly proportionate to the commitment that he has to his chosen endeavor. Will Smith loved football. Will loved competition. Will loved his teammates. He put the needs of the team, and the needs of his teammates, always before himself. And the only thing that he loved more than that was his precious family.

"We've got a saying in football: What you do speaks so well, there's no need to hear what you have to say. Because we can all see better than we hear. And Will lived through production and he lived through example. The only time Will would talk is when things were bad, things were tough. Then he would stand up and he would be heard."

Gajan also was a beloved Saint in each job that he held. He was a standout at Baker High and later played at LSU before New Orleans drafted him in the 10th round in 1981. Gajan played for the Saints from 1982-85, and ran for 1,358 yards and 11 touchdowns.

He was color analyst for the team's radio network, WWL AM 870, from 2000-15.

"I have never known anyone who was truer to himself than Hokie Gajan," said Jim Henderson, who has provided play-by-play for WWL since 1986, and was one of Gajan's presenters. "No one was truer to himself in word, deed, and wardrobe, than Hokie.

"If he was your friend, you couldn't have had a truer one. If he was your teammate, you couldn't have had a tougher one. And if you were a member of the family he treasured so much, you couldn't have had a more loving husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother or son."

Gajan's wife, Judy, accepted the award.

"He would be thrilled and very humbled by this," she said. "He was the love of my life. I will always love him."

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