GO TO GUY
The new coach in Colorado told the talented blue stream of Thornton not to leave his home country and play for Nebraska. "You will not be able to play," Bill McCartney told me, "said Rod Smith," but I went to Nebraska because they kept my word. "
A talented player who returned twelve touchdown knocks in high school, packed his stuff into a truck and trailer, and he and his friend Marc Munford headed for Lincoln. "The paperwork in Colorado called us converters."
This was not Smith's first time in Lincoln. "I attended a football camp in Nebraska when I was in high school," he explained. One of his friends was Doug Fial, nephew of Husker linebacker Adrian Fial. "Adrian went out to watch Doug and he noticed me too. He wanted Doug to come to Lincoln for a football camp and he asked me to come."
Smith did the show. One of the guys he watched was Tom Osborne's coach. "He called me to his office and told me he would be a scholarship for me in Nebraska when I graduated," Smith said.
However, his senior year in high school brought a disaster instead of more stars. "I had a knee injury and I had to go to surgery," he explained. Smith was out of season, but not from the mind's non-skilled coaching staff.
Nebraska trainers often invited him to find out how he agreed and convinced him that his scholarship was if he wanted to.
"I visited Colorado when Buffs were playing in Nebraska and went to Nebraska so that doctors and trainers could check my progress," he said as he laughed. "Even with injuries, Nebraska has respected their promise, and that was important."
Young Huskers arrive in mid-summer. "Marc and I rented a house without air conditioning and we had to sleep on the porch for moisture and heat. We could not believe it." He could not believe in the reception he received when he first entered the weight facility.
"One guy approached and asked if I was new and that I needed someone to work with," explained Smith. "After we worked out, he asked if I wanted to catch some passes, so we went out for some time." The guy was Turner Gill, and the year 1983.
McCartney was wrong. Even with trophies in football, young Smith saw some activity as a freshman. He was neat as a broad receiver, but was soon returned to the punt return. He led the nation in the return of the punt in 1986. During the first match of Nebraska under lights on October 6, 1984 against the state of Oklahoma, Smith returned a 67-yard and touchdown punt. From that moment on, Husker fans slid to their feet when Smith returned to punt.
His first touchdown dog did not happen. "Osborne coach gave me this view when we broke a bunch so I knew it would be me. Security bought me fake and the guy who was covering me fell," Smith said. "I was completely alone, and Travis Turner threw the perfect spiral. I watched it descend and start over and emit it. I was wide open."
A learned lesson, catch up first, runs on. He also learned that trainers from Nebraska can forgive. Instead of sitting on the bench, he soon became one of the best Steve Taylor's men.
Things looked great and this guy was on his way to reach his great dream. "I set my goal to play professional football when I was eight," he said. There was a good chance that his performance in Nebraska would allow him to do just that. Then Oklahoma came to town.
"I went back to the initial starting crowd and I found myself so much in excitement that my knee began to shake," he recalled. The blow ran over his head to get a touch.
Perhaps this shocking knee was a malignant sign. Smith got a kick in the game later. A week later he could not walk in Boulder. He had a broken leg and his days playing in Nebraska were over.
That did not prevent Smith from probing pro football through the free agent's route. He had to play for the bosses of Kansas City and Oakland Raiders. But his football days were numbered. "After five operations, a scoop of screws, and a plate in my leg and my explosiveness disappeared."
Smith decided to move to the Phoenix area and start the job. "I remember how it was warm and nice when we played Fiesta Bowl against Michigan." He launched a company running football camps for boys.
"We try to learn leadership more than football skills and techniques. We try to give the children a positive boost and persuade children to believe in themselves. The camp includes four lectures daily that deal with drugs, alcohol and violence.
Apparently, his approach works. Smith returned to Lincoln for the 2001 Oklahoma game. You can be sure he smiled when he watched one of his graduates. "Eric Crouch attended our camp when he was in eighth grade, and Mike Brown attended the ninth."
"I suppose I could make a lot more money to sell a car or something," Smith said, "but for me it was always a bit bigger.
It's good news for dads and mothers with boys who need a positive focus and a little pressure to achieve their great dreams. They can count Rod Smith to help. He's still a guy.