Damon J. Smith

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Damon J. Smith / Rafa Selase
Rafa Selase Jazz Pianist.jpg
Selase in 2017
Born Damon J. Smith
Vallejo, California, U.S.
Other names
  • Rafa Selase
Education Utah State University
  • Poet
  • pianist
  • songwriter
  • engineer
  • athlete
  • entrepreneur
Home town Vallejo, California, U.S.
Musical career
  • Jazz
  • Jazz fusion
  • Jazz rap
  • Alternative hip hop
  • Spoken word
  • Souletics Music
Website rafaselase.com

Damon J. Smith, also known by his stage name as Rafa Selase, is an American athlete, author, entrepreneur, engineer, jazz pianist, musician, performance poet and radio personality. He is the founder of Souletics and the first professional football player to race professional motocross.

Early years[edit]

Smith grew up in Vallejo, California before moving to Fairfield, California, when he was 14.[1] At Fairfield High School, Smith was a three-sport star, playing basketball, football and track. He competed in California's state track meet in the triple jump and high-jump and earned all-Monticello Empire League honors.[2] He is attributed to helping lead the Fairfield Falcons football and basketball teams to championships before being recruited by Utah State, receiving a full scholarship to play football as a defensive back for the Aggies. A local reporter noted that Smith accomplished what few high school athletes could accomplish as a three-sport talent.[3]

Fairfield High School later inducted him into its Hall of Fame for Track & Field, Football and Basketball.[4][5]

College years[edit]

At Utah State University, Smith started 44 straight games at defensive back.[6][7] As a freshman, he led the Big West Conference in interceptions,[8] and made news for suiting up for practice and game day just days after being injured in a three car rollover crash.[9] He made a game-winning fumble recovery and return for touchdown against highly ranked Fresno State University [10] and set the record for interceptions that year, finishing his career second all time on Utah State's Interceptions list with 17 interceptions.[11] Upon graduation, Damon was ranked 2nd in the nation in total career interceptions behind University of Alabama "Jim Thorpe Award Winner" Antonio Langham for their four-year collegiate playing period. He finished his last year of college in the top 50 on the all-time NCAA football list for career interceptions with 17 interceptions, and still ranks on that list today.[12]

Former Utah State University Coach,[13] DeWayne Walker, stated, "Damon was fast, a great jumper, [and] he had all the intangibles. He did everything right, that's what I loved about him. He's that rare type of individual that can decide [he wants to do something] and he has the intellect and drive to accomplish whatever he wants."[14][self-published source?]

Professional career[edit]


After graduating from Utah State with a degree in MIS with a Computer Science emphasis,[15] Smith was recruited to play for the Calgary Stampeders as a defensive back.[16] While in Calgary, Smith was praised by secondary coach Frank Spaziani, stating he "worked hard" and was "a bulldog." [17] He trained and played alongside other notable athletes such as Doug Flutie,[18] Jay McNeil, Travis Moore, Marvin Coleman,[19] Mike Neu, and was coached by Wally Buono.[20] During the ninth game of his rookie season, while replacing injured defensive back Kenton Leonard, he tore a medial collateral ligament in his right knee. His injury prompted concern for what the Stampeders would do for defensive backs, as the injury appeared severe enough to end his season.[18] The injury did end his first year with the Stampeders, and Smith returned to California to rehabilitate and prepare for other opportunities.[2][20] Although he rehabilitated quickly, Smith found himself without a contract.[21] Over the next year, he trained alongside elite athletes before moving on to endeavors outside of athletics.[15]


In 2005, Smith returned to the world of sport, only this time pursuing his lifelong passion for racing motocross. Although he had experience with BMX in his youth, he had never before raced a motorcycle.[22][23][24] After training for a year, he began racing in 2006, and by his second year of racing, Smith advanced from to the competitive intermediate level. He began pursuing national level races, qualifying and competing in the 2008 Loretta Lynn's National Motocross Championships.[25] The following year, he qualified and competed in the World Amateur Arena Cross Finals held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV,[26] in which the top five riders from each class from the four Arena Cross Series regions (East, West, Midwest and Central) raced for the championship title.[27] By the end of his third year of racing, he attempted to pass the rigorous qualification process required to advance to the pro level, competing against hundreds of other would-be pro racers for the 75 pro qualification points required to officially earn the "Pro" title. Over the course of three months he traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico; Salt Lake City, Utah; Reno, Nevada; Boise, Idaho and Spokane, Washington in an effort to earn his American Motorcycle Association (AMA) points and Professional License.[28][29]

By the end of May, Smith had amassed the required points and earned his professional license.[30][31] Officially an AMA Pro in 2009, he competed in 1 event in Washougal, Washington,[32] and in 2010, he competed in 4 AMA Supercross Championship events in the Lites class.[33]

In 2011, Smith returned to AMA Supercross, sponsored by Godsome Apparel, Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff Motorcycle Lawyers, MB1 and Works Connection [34] where his performance in the last qualifying practice at Phoenix made the Motocross Action Magazine Mid-Week Report.[35] His participation in three 2011 Supercross events generated some criticism, prompting motocross journalist Jared Bolton to publish an in-depth interview with Smith on his blog.[36]

Business and media[edit]

Smith joined the engineering team at Intel Corporation, eventually earning the title Senior Design Engineer.[36][37] He established a publishing company, Inspiring Minds Publications, authored and published a sports motivation book titled, "Don't Stop the Swagger: Preparing the Mind, Body & Soul for Peak Performance."[37]

After publishing the book, he frequently delivered messages as a motivational speaker to collegiate and youth organizations, traveling as far as Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to speak to young men at a community center in one of the city's many large and dangerous slums. During that trip, Smith met a young man who had been rescued from the streets of Belo Horizonte by the international Christian organization, Youth With A Mission (YWAM).[38] The young man, Sidney, connected with Smith after reading his book, and inspired Smith to shoot a documentary about him and other kids who had been helped by YWAM. He stayed in touch with Sidney as the young man graduated from high school and joined an international mission team, and eventually published his life story under Inspiring Minds Publications. Proceeds from the book Rescued to Tell: Diary of a Street Kid helped the young man travel on missions throughout South America and Africa.[39]

Smith was recognized in 2006 by Essence Magazine as one of 50 "Do-Right-Men".[40]

Throughout his travels and speaking engagements, Smith started a talk radio show on Sacramento/Bay Area radio station, KFIA 710AM.[41] "The Athlete's Show" discussed socially oriented issues from an athlete's perspective. The show aired weekly in 2007, and he interviewed professional athletes such as former Oakland Raider Jerone Davison, former Redskin/49er Rod Moore, former Toronto Blue Jay Kevin Bracey, as well as his former coach and then UCLA Bruins Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker. In 2008, he returned to the airwaves, expanding the format and changing the name to "The Damon J. Smith Show". The show explored controversial issues pertaining to religion and politics and covered the 2008 Presidential Elections.[42][22]

Smith is also behind a health and wellness software development company called Souletics which announced the launch of a free health app of the same name for smart phones [43][44] and a STEM education program that teaches science, technology, engineering, and math to high school students.[45][46] In July 2014, he spoke at the Sport & Society Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on the issue of Racial Slurs and Bullying in American Football.[47]

On January 3, 2016, Smith launched the career quiz Game of Choices II, a free mobile application for iOS devices.[44] The app ranked #2 for "career decisions" in the first week of its release, according to national app data aggregator App Annie.[48]


In 2014, Smith started his career in music with piano, poetry, and performance art, and he began using the stage name Rafa Selase.[49] His music ranged from meditative improvisational piano, to jazz fusion collaborations with rock, Latin jazz, and hip hop, and avant garde jazz. He credits artists including Donny Hathaway, Gil Scott-Heron, Hugh Masekela, Fela Kuti, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Lauryn Hill as some of his musical influences. Roots Music Journal No Depression (magazine) called him a "true artist, free from stylistic boundaries".[50]

2014: Performance Poetry[edit]

At the end of 2014 he debuted "The Souletics Experience", a performance art venture that mixes multimedia and spoken word to explore social and racial issues. Using the name Rafa Selase, Smith began creating his own music, poetry and video. He called the show "social activism under the enjoyment of entertainment".[49]

2015-2016: Meditation Music and Billboard Charts[edit]

He released his original classical jazz inspired piano tracks on iTunes in 2015, titled "SoulPower Meditations" by Rafa Selase.[51] In September 2016, he released an improvisational piano CD titled "Meditation Music" by Rafa Selase on Amazon, reaching Amazon's "best seller" ranking in 3 categories.[52] On October 1, 2016, the album reached #8 on Billboard's New Age Albums chart.[53]

2017-2018: Red Blooded American Protest Music[edit]

In 2017, he dropped an album of protest songs, titled "Red Blooded American", which combined elements of Acid Jazz, Alt Hip Hop, Folk and poetry. The album gained notoriety for its insight and critique of historical ills, as well as the current social climate faced in the United States. One music critic described his work as "poetically poignant lyricism" that "shines a ray of light through the disparities of the 21st century."[54] Music bloggers "The B-Side Guys" commmented on the cathartic value of this album, live streaming an interview with Rafa to spark an "uncomfortable conversation" about race, politics, and the mainstream media.[55][56]

2018: Jazz Pianist[edit]

Rafa continued to develop his artistry on the piano by releasing a series of singles in 2018. His single, Beauty of the Warrior, prompted Jazz Corner online music magazine to comment, "Selase stands out as a rare combination of authentic songwriting depth and world-class musicianship, showcasing a really rare blend of control over the entire vision that drives his tracks." [57] Roots music journal No Depression (magazine) called this single "cinematic and majestic." [58]


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External links[edit]