Never bet against Chris Smith.
He has been left behind so many times people might look at him as an expired railroad ticket.
On the flip side, the cash-strapped state of Florida might be wise to use him as promotion for selling Lotto tickets.
Smith has turned himself into an anything-is-possible poster.
Never miss a local story.
Down on your luck? Feeling bad about life being unfair?
Call Chris Smith.
He was an FCAT casualty and forgotten football player no one wanted six years ago.
The defensive back couldn’t graduate Palmetto High in 2005 because he didn’t pass the reading part of the FCAT. A year later, he got a GED.
He went to two junior colleges in the Midwest and finally convinced Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference to give him a football scholarship.
Despite playing nearly all of his senior season in 2010 with a cast because of a broken thumb, the cornerback made first-team All-MAC, finishing with 70 tackles, three interceptions, 15 pass break-ups and 4½ tackles for loss.
He figured to be getting invites to pro camps prior to this year’s NFL draft, like fellow Palmetto products Mistral Raymond and Joe Hills.
But last Christmas, Smith was arrested on a DUI charge.
It frightened NFL teams away, and back to the end of the line he went.
“It was a mistake. I never got in trouble before. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said from Clearwater, where he is training.
Smith learned it only takes one bad moment to turn a fairy tale into a nightmare. But he had come too far to stop.
He got a reprieve when the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League drafted him and signed him last month. Smith heads to camp on July 12, but says his agent is getting calls from NFL teams wanting to look at him when the lockout ends.
“Chris has all the tools to play the position (cornerback) and is a tough, feisty player. We feel real good about Chris’ ability to play pro ball,” Nighthawks president and head coach Joe Moglia said.
Injuries, academics and that legal issue aside, Smith has faced other obstacles.
He didn’t have the size recruiting websites reserved for the glamour guys.
He was 5-foot-9, 155 pounds as a high school senior. Now, he is 5-10, 191, and has gained a reputation as a fierce hitter.
Smith graduated NIU early (in December), saying he always knew how to read well despite what the FCAT said.
“My message to younger kids is keep pushing hard and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something,” he said.
At Ellsworth Community College in Iowa, Smith was forced to play receiver. He left after one year for Highlands Community College in Kansas so he could play cornerback and blossomed with 41 tackles, six interceptions and 15 pass break-ups. When finished, he was ranked the 49th-best junior college player in the country.
His twin brother, Donald, also had to get his GED after coming up short on the FCAT. A defensive back, he went to Ellsworth and stayed two years before enrolling at NIU, where he was a football walk-on.
“He was good enough to play, but got hurt both seasons. And when that happens you fall down the depth chart, and it’s hard to move back up,” Chris Smith said.
Donald Smith got his degree and is still up at NIU hoping to get a shot playing pro football somewhere.
Chris was selected in the fourth round and was the 17th overall pick of the UFL draft. He will be going up against some tough competition at cornerback, including Omaha’s top pick, Reynaldo Hill, a University of Florida product who played in the NFL four years with Tennessee.
The Denver Broncos have shown the most interest in Chris, and the UFL has an agreement now that players can leave for the NFL. But the cornerback has learned to take one step at a time.
Omaha’s first game is Aug. 14 at Sacramento in the league’s first Sunday game in history.
The twins had another reason to feel good this week. They turned 24 on Thursday and say the best is yet to come.