Antonio Smith is giving his camcorder a serious workout. And why not? This week, the Oklahoma City native-turned-Arizona Cardinals-star is smack in the middle of the madness that is the Super Bowl. The hype machine. The media mania. The football nirvana. Smith wants to remember everything. This, after all, is the ultimate destination on a journey that has been anything but easy. What began in a tough part of town that sometimes turned dangerous passed through football’s valleys before reaching its peaks. Many times Smith could’ve decided the path was too difficult. He never did. "I appreciate every step that I took,” Smith said earlier this week. "I think everything that happened to me on my path happened for a reason, and it was just for this moment.” Smith never dreamed of gridiron glory growing up on the northwest side of Oklahoma City. He didn’t even start playing football until his freshman year at John Marshall High School. By his senior year, Smith’s potential was obvious even though his skills were raw. He was big and strong but played with great speed and high energy, a great combination for a defensive end. Some recruiters came calling, but a low ACT score kept most away. Junior college became Smith’s only option. He accepted it. "I think he saw the big picture,” said Dan Cocannouer, then the coach at John Marshall, now at Southwestern Oklahoma State. "He could go on and better himself, or he could stay where he was. "I just think he wanted more.” Cocannouer saw the rough neighborhood and the dire straights when he would give Smith a ride home after practice. He heard of the struggles, including the time Smith got shot in the leg in seventh grade. "It hasn’t been easy for him,” Cocannouer said. "He had to fight.” That emotion landed him in trouble several times at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Then the coach at the Miami junior college, Dale Patterson, kicked Smith off the practice field several times because his emotions got the better of him. Patterson nearly booted him from the team, too. After the third or fourth incident, Patterson called Smith into the office and gave him one more chance. He took it. "From then on, he grew up,” Patterson said. "We gave him a chance, and he took advantage of that chance.” Smith landed a scholarship offer from Oklahoma State, became a defensive star on the 2003 Cotton Bowl team, then was drafted in the fifth round by Arizona. But that wasn’t the end of his struggles. Smith failed to make the Cardinals’ roster that fall, ending up on the practice squad, then being assigned to play in NFL Europe. "I don’t think I ever had (it) easy,” Smith said. "I think it’s always been a struggle, but it taught me how to fight for everything I got in this life. It taught me how to strive for more out of life.” He reached it. After spending the early part of 2005 playing for the Hamburg Sea Devils, Smith signed with the Cardinals and continued to play more as the season progressed. Many believed it was because the Cardinals didn’t have a better option. Turns out, Smith was developing into quite a defensive end. Much like his team, this season has been his breakout. Smith had a fabulous regular season, becoming a pass-rushing nightmare for opponents. But he saved his best play for the postseason. Smith scored a safety against Atlanta, then forced a fumble and came up with the ball on a sack against Carolina. That turnover led to an easy Arizona score in what became a blowout. Now, Smith and the Cardinals are on the verge of Super Bowl greatness. "This is a blessing just to be around this whole thing,” he said. "It is surreal to all of us.” No one more so than Smith. That’s why he’s taping everything on his camcorder this week, soaking up every bit of the experience and relishing every moment of the journey. "He took advantage of opportunities that he had,” said Patterson, now OSU’s assistant director of football operations. "Time and time again, he took advantage of that opportunity and was able to improve himself. "He’s really a success story.” Jenni Carlson: 475-3314. Jenni Carlson can be heard Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. on KEBC-AM 1340.