May 10 was a regular Saturday for most people in Piscataway, New Jersey, but not for Jackson State senior Rob Smith. His NFL dreams were just a phone call way.
He watched the entire NFL draft with nervous anticipation and his cell phone by his side. A text or call from a friend during the draft was enough to make Smith’s heart race with eagerness. As each pick went by without a phone call or his name being announced, his chances of being drafted dropped.
After the 255th pick was announced there was only one pick left. For some, being Mr. Irrelevant would have been a disappointment, but not for Smith. The NFL draft has become a prime-time event that now has NFL prospects glorified and put up on a pedestal like never before.
Players are walking the red carpet and taking interviews from television networks. The lights are bright and the spotlight is on these prospects, but for Smith, Mr. Irrelevant would have been enough. The pick was announced, and his name was never called.
The draft was over and reality sunk in for Smith. “Wow,” he said describing his thoughts after he went undrafted. “This may be it. It’s hard not to be negative immediately after because that’s your dream. That’s why you play the game. After the initial shock of not being drafted passed I knew I had some work to do, and I wasn’t about to give up my dream.”
That’s where things sort of spun out of control for Smith. NFL.com and local Bay Area media in Oakland were reporting that Smith was signed by the Raiders as an undrafted free agent, and his name is still there as an undrafted free-agent signing. Smith’s phone, Twitter and Facebook started blowing up with support and congratulations from everywhere.
“My uncle in Jamaica actually called me to tell me congratulations. I never heard anything from my agent or the Raiders,” Smith said. “I started getting messages on Facebook and Twitter from everyone and even people I didn’t know. I thought to myself 'maybe I did get picked up?'”
When the NFL draft is over it’s a hectic time for NFL teams. They are scrambling to sign undrafted free agents before other teams do. It’s complete madness for a team and the players still hanging on to that NFL dream.
“I spoke with my agent, because I didn’t know what was going on. It turns out, I wasn’t signed by the Raiders,” Smith explained. “I had to explain to everyone that I wasn’t signed.”
Not being drafted can be hard to swallow for many NFL hopefuls. Imagine what it feels like to think you've been signed by an NFL team and having family, friends and fans congratulate you only to find out you weren't actually signed.
Smith was a four-year senior. He was able to finish school and get his marketing degree. Despite not being drafted, he does have the degree to fall back on. The same can’t be said about the 36 undrafted underclassmen.
“I wish those guys the best,” Smith said about the 36 undrafted underclassmen. “I was blessed enough to get my degree. You never know what’s going to happen, and agents or experts don’t know where you’re going to be drafted. It’s unfortunate some of these guys didn’t finish school and didn’t get drafted.”
Smith has plans to use his marketing degree one day, but he’s not ready to give up on his dream even after not being drafted and the mayhem that ensued after the draft. He is a 6’3”, 305-pound defensive tackle that could play in both a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. He finished his senior year with 40 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
“The next step for me is to keep grinding and to try to find an opportunity. The best from me is yet to come,” Smith said in a determined tone. “I just want an opportunity, whether it’s the NFL, Canada or any league. I’ll never give up because that’s how I was raised. Life isn’t easy, but you work hard for the things you want.”
Smith said he plans to use what he learned in school to help him find an opportunity. He earned a marketing degree in college, and he understands that he’ll have to go out and market himself to teams just so he gets a chance to play.
“Even though things didn’t go as I was hoping, I still feel blessed. Where I come from, not a lot of people have the opportunity to do what I’ve done,” Smith said. “After my experience, some people would quit, but I’m not built that way. I was raised by a single mom. If she would have quit when life got hard, where would I be today?”
We hear too much about NFL players who blow opportunities. Guys like JaMarcus Russell, Aaron Hernandez or Rolando McClain who had promising careers and threw it away because they lacked the drive and common sense a guy like Smith has.
“I’ll always keep fighting; this is my dream since I was a little kid. I’m not going to lose my hunger and desire. This whole experience has done nothing but make me hungrier. A wise man once told me that a man who gives up on his dream is a dead man walking.”
Smith has yet to get a tryout or phone call from an NFL team, but he’s not giving up and he’ll continue to work to reach his goals.
The quotes provided for this article were based off a firsthand interview with Robert Smith.