SALT LAKE CITY — Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith doesn’t dread the end of his NFL career.
Thanks to an unexpected disappointment and the love of his family, he’s ready to embrace it — whenever it comes.
On March 13, 2014, the 35-year-old former University of Utah standout was released by the Carolina Panthers after 12 impressive seasons. A day later, the five-time Pro Bowler signed a three-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens worth $11.5 million. While he's grateful for the opportunity to play in Baltimore, he's also realistic about the fact that he only has a few years left in the NFL.
“I love playing ball, but honestly, getting released just gave me an opportunity to kind of go through that transition of being released, (of) understanding and realizing your career is coming to an end,” he said. “And there is a mourning period I went through, but there is also excitement because you get to do things with your family that you kind of didn’t prepare for.”
He said the blow of being released by the team that drafted him was softened significantly by the love and support of his family.
“Nothing is better,” he said, “in the business world, being fired or being let go or being derailed, when you have a strong family background (because) they pick up the slack.”
Smith met with reporters a few hours before he participated in the University of Utah’s annual coaching clinic, and he said he sees a very exciting future for himself — most of the joy coming away from the football field.
When a reporter joked that he surely had five more years of NFL football in his future, Smith was emphatic.
“I’m not playing five more years if they pay me a trillion dollars,” he said to laughter. “It’s not happening.”
Instead, Smith said that after a few more years of football he wants to focus on his own family members and supporting their hopes and dreams.
“Generally for the last 12 years, our Sundays and Monday nights and Thursday nights have consisted of going to see Dad play,” he said. “There is a whole new chapter out there, a whole new list of things that I get to be and do, and I look forward to experiencing that.”
Smith and his wife Angie have three children — Peyton, Baylee and Boston — and they’re expecting their fourth in early July. His oldest son wears Smith’s No. 89 in soccer, and the proud father looks forward to the day when he can sit in the stands and wear his son’s jersey.
“I am excited about a lot of things,” he said. "I’m here for the day, leaving the last thing out of Utah tonight, so I can be on a football field in Charlotte coaching my son’s flag football team. I want to coach my kids. A lot of fathers have coached me, and so I want to be able to do the same. But the most important thing is to coach my own kids.”
He and his wife fund both an academic and athletic scholarship at Utah, and they have been huge financial supporters of the Ute football program, as well as the university. Smith said it feels good to repay the kindness that afforded him access to a college education.
“I really thought about it as I was looking back at my career and you just think about the fact that someone wrote a check for me,” he said. “And so now you go, ‘OK, how am I going to pay that forward? How am I going to repay the favor?'”
Smith said he wouldn’t have left his California home if he hadn’t gotten a scholarship to play for Utah after playing at Santa Monica College.
“Football gave me an opportunity to attend a college that my family could not afford to send me to,” he said. “That’s the first thing. The second thing is that it gave me an opportunity to be away from home, which I never would have done of my own free will.”
Meeting students and athletes from other countries and communities enriched Smith’s life. His college education, he said, made him a more successful person — on and off the field.
“I went to college to play football, but I also got an education,” Smith said. “I think I wouldn’t be successful in some of the other things I’m successful in, things I learned in college. And I’m not just talking about (being) successful money-wise. It helped me become a well-rounded person and also helped me become an adult.”
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