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Long road leads to glory for Cardinals' Antonio Smith

by Jenni Carlson Modified: January 30, 2009 at 1:16 am •  Published: January 30, 2009
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.

by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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