Smith Takes Long Road to St. Louis
Saturday, May 12, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
By now, almost everybody knows the incredible story of the No. 13 that came to camp with the Rams as a long shot and left as a legend. This story isn’t about that player and the ending has yet to be written, but if it’s ending is anything close to the last one, it will be every bit as heartwarming and just as incredible.
Throwing on the No. 13 practice jersey would seem like bad luck considering the negative connotation that goes with the number. In St. Louis, it’s a number revered for what quarterback Kurt Warner once did with it on his back.
This weekend, at the Rams’ rookie minicamp, the next in the line of players to pull that jersey over the shoulder pads is taking aim at being the next undrafted rookie free agent makes good story.
His name is Shaine Smith. At 6’2, 189 pounds, he cuts a lean, almost lanky shadow that lets you know immediately that he is a wide receiver. At first glance, Smith seems like normal camp fodder, a player who looks the part, but might never get past the training camp stage of the NFL offseason.
But Smith’s journey to St. Louis has been anything but normal. Some would call it arduous, others might say difficult and some might not believe you if you told them.
“I have come a long way from where I have been and I tell ya, it’s hard to say I am in a Rams uniform right now, it’s hard to fathom,” Smith said. “But I worked hard and I always believed and dreamed I would be able to do this.”
Smith had a relatively normal upbringing in San Diego. Although his parents had separated when he was young and his family didn’t have a whole lot of money, Smith was able to make his way through school while excelling on the football field.
Before he could make the next step to college football, though, things began to unravel around him. In 2000, Smith’s mother, Lorraine Taylor, lost her job working at an insurance company in San Diego.
Without that source of income, she was no longer able to pay the rent and provide for Smith and his younger half-brother, Trevor. For the next two months that trio began bouncing around San Diego with no place to call home.
They stayed in hotels when Taylor could afford it, but set up in Taylor’s Honda Civic just as often. Three people in a tiny, four-door car was hardly the ideal living situation.
When Matthew Smith, Shaine’s father, heard about the situation, he set out to find a way to help his son. The only problem was Shaine was on the other side of the country. Matthew Smith lived in Queens, N.Y., and fought to get Shaine to join him.
Smith resisted, opting to live with his football coach and some family friends for two months before finally relenting and moving to be with his father. It was the middle of Smith’s junior season when he caved in and made the move.
At the time, Smith didn’t know how good of a decision he was about to make. While he had an uncertain relationship with his father, there were never any problems after getting over the initial adjustment that goes with making a cross-country move.
Smith enrolled at August Martin High in Queens and made an immediate impact as a senior. In fact, Smith played well enough to draw interest from a number of high-major division I football programs. Penn State and West Virginia were among the teams showing interest in Smith’s services.
Instead of taking his talents to Happy Valley, though, Smith found another blockade on the road to success. Lacking the grades to gain admittance to one of those schools, Smith settled for enrolling in Nassau (Long Island) Community College in 2002.
Smith played two seasons there before searching once again to find a more permanent home. When he was done there in 2005, he had a single scholarship offer and it wasn’t from Penn State. His next destination? Hofstra.
Playing for the Pride didn’t have the pizzazz of some of the colleges interested in him out of high school, but Smith saw an opportunity to continue his education and his football career.
Although Hofstra doesn’t have much of a reputation for football (it is Division I-AA), it did have a bit of a reputation for sending some players to the NFL. Receiver Wayne Chrebet had a solid career for the New York Jets and quarterback Giovanni Carmazzi was drafted.
Little did Smith know that in going to Hofstra, he would find himself behind the next in line of Hofstra’s growing NFL lineage. Stuck on the depth chart behind Marques Colston and Devale Ellis, Smith didn’t have much of a junior season. In fact, he caught just one pass for 8 yards for the Pride as a junior.
Colston went on to become a seventh-round choice of the New Orleans Saints and Ellis made the Detroit Lions as an undrafted rookie. Those departures opened the door for Smith to finally have his moment as the team’s go-to receiver.
“It gives me great confidence because I played alongside (Colston) along with some other great receivers at Hofstra,” Smith said. “It’s like if you can do it, I can do it too. Why can’t I?”
And Smith did not disappoint. In the first game of his senior season, Smith caught 12 balls for 195 yards and a touchdown. He began to draw interest from NFL scouts, who paid a little closer attention to Hofstra after Colston took the league by storm as a rookie.
By the time his senior year was through, Smith had 60 catches for 951 yards and nine touchdowns. The next step, he hoped, was a shot at the NFL.
With Colston and Ellis returning to New York, Smith joined them in training. Colston and Ellis showed Smith the ropes, teaching him how to prepare for the NFL and the numerous workouts and cattle calls he would go through on the pre-draft circuit.
Colston and Smith talk almost daily and Colston provided plenty of advice for his friend leading up to the draft.
“The best thing he told me is, ‘It’s simple. This is what we have been doing all our lives. Just go out and do what you do,’” Smith said. “It’s as simple as that. There is no secret to what you do; there is no underground way to try to get there. Just do what you have done your whole life and everything will come natural.”
Smith thought he had done enough to get a call during the draft that he had been selected. The Jets and Eagles had shown of interest and Smith figured one of them would grab him in the late rounds.
When that didn’t happen, Smith faced the decision of which team he would try to make as an undrafted free agent much like his friend Ellis did last year. He liked the situation in Philadelphia, but wasn’t offered much after the draft. He settled on St. Louis.
While Smith begins to learn about his new teammates, coaches and city, he is also in the process of reshaping his relationship with his mother. Soon after leaving for New York, Smith had vowed to bring her to New York when it became possible.
Finally, while on a visit to San Diego in March, Smith got a call from a family friend who had located his mother.
“We brought her back to New York, thank God,” Smith said. “She is doing really well now. I am just happy for that. It seems like now, I had a good senior season, I got my mother back, I talk to my brothers, it seems like everything is starting to come together and it feels great.”
In the long and winding journey to St. Louis, Smith finally feels like everything is starting to fall into place. He is fully aware that he’s a long shot to make the roster, but he doesn’t let that bother him.
Coach Scott Linehan says Smith has as good a shot as anybody.
"I think everybody has got a shot somewhere to be that special exception," Linehan said. "I know expectations are high on high draft picks, but guys like Shaine will get a lot of chances out there."
Smith has faced and beaten the odds enough times in his life to know that nothing’s impossible.
“I don’t want to come in here and say I am a rookie, I am going to learn the ropes,” Smith said. “Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, those are great receivers. I don’t want to come in here and sit around and (just) watch these guys; I am going to come with the mindset that I am playing. It doesn’t stop here for me. I have to get where they are at so I am going to soak up as much knowledge from those guys. I want to play my first year, that’s my goal.”
What a story that would make.
Re: Smith Takes Long Road to St. Louis
Seems like a good kid ... For those of you who would like to see a picture of him -- here's the link: (It may take a few moments to download)
Re: Smith Takes Long Road to St. Louis
I really hope he turns into a Colston, and could replace Bruce later. Yes, I know thats a longshot. Who knows, but I really hope it works out.