Former Nebraska offensive lineman Mike Smith’s senior season as a Cornhusker didn’t go quite as he had envisioned. In fact, thanks to a mid-August leg injury, Smith didn’t see the field at all in 2010.
“It was awful,” he said.
“I started for two years as a sophomore and junior. Not being able to go out there and telling myself that I’m not going to be able to get another year was the hardest."
The team as a whole didn’t let Smith mope, but there was one player in particular who helped him through this troubled time.
“It was easier because (Nebraska linebacker) Sean Fisher had the same injury, so I wasn’t alone."
As another Cornhusker being looked at to add depth to his position, Fisher could no doubt understand the emotional struggles that Smith was wrestling with.
"We rehabbed every single day together, so we definitely had a good bond going,” Smith continued.
As he and Fisher worked back towards health, he was never worried that the University of Nebraska had a lack of athletic trainers and equipment to get them in peak physical condition quickly.
“They’ve got everything you could ever conceive. We were lucky because some schools don’t have the technology that (Nebraska has). Most schools probably don’t. The athletic department really cares about players. They want them to be able to compete as soon as possible and to have the best care.”
Once Smith’s ankle was repaired, a surprise came in the form of an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game which gives NFL draft hopefuls an opportunity to show off their abilities.
“It was crazy! I never thought I’d be able to have a chance to play in a game like that. It just came so quickly. I was medically released one day and then the next, I found out I’d be playing.”
But Smith did have some initial reservations about the post-season game.
“I was nervous because of my ankle. It held up well, but I was kind of rusty. It definitely took some time to get back into things, but everything felt great,” he said.
Despite not seeing the field during his senior year, having to endure spending the entire 2010 season on the Nebraska sideline may pay off greatly.
“It made me a lot hungrier, because I was always told, ‘you’ll get drafted.’ Then, I was put in a position where I might not, so it made me work ten times harder.”
The former Cornhusker decided to take his training to the next level in preparation for Nebraska’s pro day where his every movement would be dissected by NFL scouts. He travelled to San Francisco and worked with former 49ers' All-Pro offensive guard Guy McIntyre.
“We worked out once a week. He kicked my butt, so I was ready for anything that was thrown at me. We would work two hours straight doing different kinds of sets and working on anything you could think of.”
Smith isn’t interested in labeling himself as one particular type of offensive lineman.
“I can do a variety of things. I can play tackle or center. I can come in at tight end and block or even catch. That’s what I have over most offensive linemen and that’s what teams have told me that they like best about me.”
Being inadvertently forced to forfeit his final year of college football was surely a crushing blow, but the hard work put in during these many months and perseverance that Smith was forced through may result in finding himself on an NFL roster regardless.
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