Johnathon Smith was in Joe Flacco’s house that day in April, 2008, when the phone rang. It was the Baltimore Ravens, calling to tell Flacco they had just selected him with the 18th pick in the first round of the NFL draft.
“He’s a great guy, very mellow, just chill. You don’t run into guy like that a lot. He was always a leader,” Smith said. “The way he is on the field is the way he is in person. After a big play, he might give you a ‘Yeah!’ and you’re like, where the hell did that come from?”
Smith’s professional football opportunities ended with training camp appearances with the Washington Redskins and the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. No matter the sport, it has a way of ending abruptly, for almost every athlete.
Smith was ready. Now, the Maine Central Institute graduate wants to help other athletes prepare for life when the game is over.
“You have to really have a back up plan,” said Smith, who now lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where he runs his personal training business. “It’s a shock and nobody stresses this might end. Nobody’s saying, ‘Hey, you’d better save your money.’ “
Smith has two books due out in March, “Dare to Dream, Play to Win,” and children’s version of the same title. The books offer advice for student athletes on how to achieve their goals, with Smith’s journey from a struggling high school student to Division I football player as the backdrop.
Smith spent one school year at MCI, but when he looks back now, almost 10 years later, Smith realizes that might have been the most important school year of his life. That year away from his Camp Hill, Pa. home prepared him for college life. Smith spent two years playing football at the University of Connecticut before transferring to the University of Delaware, where he earned a Sociology degree.
“MCI did a great job mimicking that model. It’s all on you. That allowed me to excel my freshman year because I didn’t have that culture shock. That’s where a lot of athletes get weeded out,” Smith said.
A college football team’s freshmen class may have 20 players, Smith said. By the time the class reaches it’s senior year, less than a dozen remain. Academics, playing time, and homesickness are just a few of the reasons a college athlete might not make to it senior year.
“You get to graduation, and there’s six of you left. Hey, where’d everybody go?” Smith said.
The idea for a book came to Smith in 2009, as he was finishing classes at Delaware. He had just returned to school from mini-camp with Washington, and it hit him. His athletic career could be over at any minute.
“What’s going to happen? I was having flashbacks. This all happened and now it’s over,” Smith said.
When Smith thinks of successful student athletes, one of the people he thinks of is Flacco.
Shortly after Smith joined the Blue Hens, he switched positions, from linebacker to running back. Flacco was there to help Smith learn the offense. With Flacco at quarterback and Smith in the backfield, the Blue Hens played in the 2007 Football Championship Subdivision championship game against Appalachian State, losing . The teammates were neighbors in an off campus apartment complex, and Smith would often go next door to pick Flacco’s brain.
“When I switched from defense to offense, he was a great help to me,” Smith said.
These days, Smith volunteers with F.A.S.T. Camp, working with children on speed, agility and cardio drills.
“I can reach out and talk to them. It’s a chance to practice public speaking,” Smith said.
He stays in contact with his teammates and friends from MCI. Smith is still very close to MCI football coach Tom Bertrand and his family. The Bertrands visited Smith in Florida last year. Smith hopes to speak at MCI soon.
“That’s what I love, sharing the stories,” Smith said. “I just love that town of Pittsfield. Down here, everything going so fast, and I go to Pittsfield, and everything’s so relaxing… All those guys I played with, we built a relationship.”
Smith has complete confidence that Flacco will bring a Super Bowl win to Baltimore.
“I’m definitely rooting for the Ravens,” Smith said. “You never can count Joe out. Never count him out. I can’t wait to see the ring.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242