"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.”
475-3314. Jenni Carlson can be heard Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. on KEBC-AM 1340.