By Justin Paley
Jets Insider.com Staff Writer
August 4th, 2004
Now Smart practices alongside Martin daily during Jets training camp as Smart for the second time tries to make the Jets September roster.
Currently, Smart is one of 87 players on the team trying to make the final cut on September 5th. While Martin is entering his 10th year in the NFL and does not have to worry about whether or not he will make the final roster, players like Smart do. At 5’8 and 192 pounds the odds are against the ambitious youth and he will have to really stand out if he wants to make the Jets. Last year, Smart, coming off an outstanding career at C.W. Post, was invited to Jets camp for a tryout. He impressed the Coaches and was invited to camp however, his dream ended prematurely when he was released in late August.
At North Babylon High School, Smart shined. After graduating, Smart decided to stay on Long Island and attend Division II C.W. Post in Brookville.
Smart had a solid freshman year, rushing for 926 yards and 11 touchdowns. There was no sophomore jinx for Smart as he earned EFC Offensive Player of the Year honors after scoring a school-record 20 touchdowns.
As a junior, Smart led all of college football rushing with 2,536 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Smart continued to destroy the opposition as a senior. In one game against Bentley College, Smart rushed for 243 yards and three touchdowns. Against UMASS, Smart scored six TDs while gaining a total of 335 yards. At the end of his senior campaign at Post, Smart finished with 2,023 yards and 30 TD’s.
C.W. Post even started a Heisman Trophy watch for Smart, unheard of for any athlete that does not play Division I-A football.
Smart finished his college career fourth all-time in collegiate football history with 6,647 rushing yards. He also left C.W. Post as the all-time leader in college football with 95 touchdowns and 570 points. “Records can always be broken. The next guy can come around and break those records,” Smart said when asked how long he things his two records will stand.
The Jets have a history of inviting local college players to try out for the team during training camp. While most Jets fans probably remember Rich Kotite by his 1-15 season, Kotite did do one good thing by inviting a small scrappy wide receiver by the name of Wayne Chrebet to try out. Chrebet had a solid career at Hofstra but most critics figured Chrebet didn’t have a shot at making the Jets. After all, he was only 5’10 and played against second rate NCAA talent. Anyway, we all know how the story ended. Ten years later Chrebet is second on the Jets all time receiving list ahead of Jets legends such as Wesley Walker and Al Toon and only behind Hall of Famer Don Maynard.
At the time, Chrebet was trying out, Smart was 15 years old. If anything, Chrebet’s story has given hopes to many players like Smart, who don’t fit the mold of a typical NFL player.
Last summer, Smart was given the chance to show Head Coach Herman Edwards and the rest of the coaching staff what he could do. Smart played in all five of the Jets 2003 preseason games, rushing the ball 13 times for 34 yards and returning three kicks for 69 yards. Not bad, but not good enough to make the team.
Special Teams Coach Mike Westhoff talked about why Smart didn’t make the cut last year.
“It’s just that the numbers caught up to him,” said Westhoff. “We were wondering where would he fit. There wasn’t really a role for him to fit into so it just got him. I think there were some things he had to learn. There were some questions. Was he going to be fast enough? Does he have enough explosion? That’s the questions we don’t necessarily know or see. He’s obviously a nifty little guy but the optimum word there is little. So, when you’re not a big guy, you’ve got to have a lot of other ingredients and lots of speed. I still don’t know if it’s there.”
Smart was overwhelmed how much faster the NFL is compared to the college game.
After he was released last summer, no other NFL teams contacted him so he used his degree to get a job as a substitute teacher at North Babylon High School. Smart also worked as a personal trainer at C.W. Post.
Smart was surprised when the Jets signed him to a 2004 future contract on Jan. 6 of this year. He was very happy to get a second opportunity.
The Jets next allocated Smart to the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe, so he could get experience playing in a professional environment.
While the Claymores finished last in the six team NFL Europe with a record of 2-8, Smart got valuable playing experience. He finished the season with 41 carries for 201 yards and a TD while catching nine passes for 101 yards.
Smart talked about his experience in Scotland.
“I just learned a lot about the game and how to approach everything. I got comfortable with the speed of the game and how everything moves,” Smart said.
He felt the toughest adjustment was not on the field, but the food. “It was pretty bad. The first thing I did when I got back here was go to the fast food restaurants,” Smart said.
Westhoff feels the experience of playing in NFLE helped Smart. “It makes a difference because you’re competing at a higher level. You have to be able to excel at a higher level and there’s something to say for that,”
Among Smart’s current Jets teammates in camp from the Claymores are C Curt McGill, DT Alan Harper, and LB Ryan Myers. All, like Smart, are currently fighting for a roster spot.
There are currently 68 ex-players from the Scotland roster who are currently in 29 NFL training camps. One of the more successful stories is Kansas City Chiefs punt returner Dante Hall, who Smart can look to for inspiration.
Smart learned from his experience in Jets camp last year and took many things from last year into this summer’s opportunity.
“Just be patient,” said Smart. “Be under control. Just take your time. You want to go full speed, you want to work hard but you want to be smart about what you do and how you approach things.”
If Smart is to make the Jets, he will have to stand out to the Coaches and his best shot at present is as a special teams player. He will also have to be a versatile player and talked about what he has done to become one.
“I worked on my pass protection, so that’s a big thing,” Said Smart. “I’m trying to get better. I’ve also worked on catching balls out of the backfield and catching punts, so hopefully that will help me out a little.”
Smart felt more pressure last year to make the team being a local guy. Martin who Smart grew up admiring has helped Smart out and has given Smart advice
Early in training camp this year, Smart has practiced kick and punt returns. He will have to live up to Westhoff’s high standards and the legendary Special Teams Coach still needs to see certain things from Smart.
“Whether he has a better chance than last year, that’s a good question, said Westhoff. “I think he’s ahead of last year. We’re going to have to find out in the pre-season games. That’s what we really looking forward. I’m anxious to see. He’s worked hard, he’s a great kid and I’d like to see a guy like him succeed. Does he have the raw talent and skill to explode away from someone? We’ll see. My standards are very high. Our kickoff return team has been top 5 in the NFL the past couple of years, performing at an extremely high level. If he can match up to that, he has a great chance. If he doesn’t, he wont’ be able to make it.”
Head Coach Herman Edwards is a fan of Smart, “You love him because he is a very competitive guy,” said the Coach. He is a local guy who went over into the World League and when he first got back this year he was a little beat up. He was hobbling and all beat up. He is a guy who is vying for a position. He is kind of a kickoff return guy. He is a good running back. His problem is that he is sitting in a situation where we have some pretty good backs. Hopefully we can showcase him a little but you never know what is going to happen in training camp, you really never know. I think he is a much more confident player now then when he was here last year, when he first came out. I think it was a little bit big for him right away. Now, he has matured a lot as a player. He has been in the World League and been to this camp a couple times. He knows the system a little bit better and that is going to help him. Any time you are a free agent, the odds are against you.”
Even if he does not make the Jets this summer, Smart has no plans to give up. “I’m just going to keep playing until I can’t go anymore.”