Ask any current and former NFL player and they will tell you that they had to overcome some type of adversity during their career. They will also tell you they’ve matured and have moved on since then. Rarely, however, do some actually live up to their word. For Damond Smith, he’s not only living up to it, but he’s setting the example for players to follow.
Smith grew up with five siblings, two older and younger brothers and one sister, in Ecourse, Michigan. At the age of seven, Smith first laced up his cleats and strapped on his helmet in the travel leagues of Michigan. He played in that league up until high school.
Being one of the bigger kids and the harder hitters, Smith always played linebacker and running back growing up. It wasn’t until he got to Cass Tech High School where he switched to corner and played with some of the best corners to come out of the state of Michigan.
“Cass Tech sent corners to D-1 schools every years. It was great because I got to learn under the best,” said Smith.
Cass Tech sent players to Oregon, Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan, and a number of other top Division-1 football programs. For Smith, he was ready to add his name to the list of quality corners to come out of Cass Tech.
Following his junior year, Smith’s family moved and with that so did where he went to high school. For his senior year, he attended and started at cornerback for Inkster High School. In the state semi-finals, Smith led the team with three interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns. Unfortunately, they fell in the state finals to East Grand Rapids.
Coming out of high school, Smith was the 189th ranked cornerback on Scout.com. In Michigan, he was the top ranked corner and 32nd ranked overall player in the state. Smith was also a member of the Detroit News Blue Chip List in 2009. Following high school, Smith had all the top mid-west schools after him.
“Michigan, Western Michigan, all the MAC school, Utah, and few other Big 10 schools were after me. I took official visits to UMass and Western Michigan,” said Smith.
For Smith, the move to become a Western Michigan Bronco was fairly simple. It was close to home and he could play right away. He signed his letter of intent and in the fall of 2009 he was on the campus of Western Michigan.
Right away, Smith got playing time and appeared in all 11 of WMU’s games. One of his most memorable career moments came in his first ever game in front of 110,000 in the Big House on the campus of the University of Michigan.
“That opened my eyes to college football. The atmosphere was amazing and I was lining up against guys that I used to watch on TV. It was surreal,” said Smith. He finished with four tackles in his first career game against the Wolverines.
At the end of his freshman year, Smith had tallied 26 total tackles and two interceptions. Since he started as a true freshman, he was ready take over the leading role in the secondary.
“All the other freshmen corners had gotten redshirted so I was fighting with seniors my freshman year. Since they had moved on, I was ready to take over the secondary,” said Smith.
Smith started six of the first seven games of the 2010 season before everything came to a screeching halt. An on-field scuffle with a teammate led to the benching of Smith and his teammate. After the first seven weeks of the season, Smith was then reportedly dismissed from the team.
“That wasn’t true. I wasn’t dismissed from the team. I left the team. Looking back, I believe that it was the Lords plan. I was young and I made a few mistakes and didn’t do things the right way. I owned up to my mistakes,” said Smith.
After leaving WMU, Smith then turned his attention to where he was going to go next. Being one of the top corners in his class, the last he wanted was to stop playing football altogether. UMass was still high on his list and he took his official visit there.
“Right after I got back from my visit to UMass, South Alabama called and wanted to see me right away. I flew down, visited with everybody, and decided to transfer to South Alabama,” said Smith.
While at South Alabama, he started along side University of Alabama transfer BJ Scott in the defensive backfield and together they were, what some experts believed, the top defensive back combination in the country.
Through the first four games of the season, Smith had 18 tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss. Once again, adversity stepped right up into the face of Damond Smith.
Smith failed an NCAA regulated drug test and was suspended immediately and never returned to the field. What was once a promising football career, turned into another could have, should have, and would have story. For Smith, it was devastating.
“That was extremely humbling. It was by far the most humbling experience of my life. I went from playing on the football field to sitting on my couch watching,” said Smith.
When most players would’ve called it quits, it motivated Smith to work even harder. While playing football the following season was off the table, preparing and training for it wasn’t.
Smith has been preparing for the NFL Draft with NFL trainer Jim Keilbaso and NFL speed coach Jeff Johnson. On March 12th, Smith will be participating in the NFL Pro Day at Jacksonville State.
Since he can’t participate in football, Smith has spent much of the past year working at the local nursing home talking to and entertaining the elderly and spending time with his two year old son.
It’s been a long and twisted road for Smith to get to where he is today. There’s much adversity and on and off the field issues that might draw a red flag for teams that are looking to draft Smith. According to him, he’s changed and moved on.
When I asked Smith what he would say to an NFL GM that was worried about his past, his response was emotional and inspiring.
“We all make mistakes. I'm owning up to them and accepting full responsibility for when I was immature and younger. I'm ready to move on with the life the Lord has for me and I can be an asset to any and every NFL team. I can play press, off, and help in the run game. I'm a leader. I was a captain at South Alabama. I'm just ready to play. I won't let you down and I will make you proud,” said Smith.