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It seemed like every step of Jerell Smith’s football career included a road block.
In high school at St. Francis Prep in Queens, he was stuck behind an established senior his junior year and saw little playing time. His final year there the Terriers were moved up to the CHSFL ‘AAA’ division and lost every game, falling to league dynamo St. Anthony’s twice.
In college, he ended up at Howard University, and watched as the offensive coordinator left and head coach was fired, the system was changed and the program tried to turn the natural running back into a slot receiver.
“I never doubted myself,” the Brooklyn native said. “At some point when things aren’t going your way you ask yourself what is going wrong. I never really felt I was doing anything different. I was the same kind of football I was as a child. I was still working hard, reading holes the same way, running with the same style. Things weren’t working out for me. I just kept a positive attitude through the whole thing.”
Finally, he caught a break.
Bryant University, an emerging Division II program in Smithfield, R.I., was looking for a running back to replace its senior stalwart, Lorenzo Perry. They liked Smith and he liked them for one major reason – they were offering him a chance to play. While it was a step down in terms of level of competition, Smith wasn’t one to get caught up in the prestige of Division I football.
“It wasn’t about what division was stamped on the school; it was about getting on the field and having fun again,” he said. “I was missing the game. Just having the opportunity was all I wanted.”
Smith, 22, helped lead the Bulldogs to an 8-1 league record and the outright Northeast-10 Conference title last year. He has been integral this year, as well, as Bryant moved up to Division I-AA, it has put together an impressive 6-4 record as an independent.
“It presented another opportunity to showcase my talent on the field,” said Smith, a history major with a 2.5 GPA who wants to go to law school if football doesn’t pan out.
He has rushed for 1,155 yards and scored six touchdowns. Coach Marty Fine said Smith has excelled in what Bryant looks for in a running back. Smith, a redshirt senior with one more year of eligibility left, has advanced the ball, held onto it, made big plays when the opportunity presents itself and has shown a penchant for finding the first-down marker.
“He has great vision, he really sees the field well, he reads blocking schemes,” Fine said. “His understanding of football really shows when he has the ball in his hands.”
Smith has also fit in with Bryant’s dedication to community service. He is always one of the first players to offer up his free time, whether it’s a fundraiser for MS Research of hosting a Special Olympics.
“Everybody does some,” Fine said. “But he does most of it.”
Last Saturday, in front of friends and family, he rushed for 112 yards and scored two touchdowns in a 23-7 win over Iona College in New Rochelle, just the latest breakout performance in a season full of them.
“He’s a kid that deserved it,” said Tim Smith, his father. “He worked hard to get to where he is today. He persevered through a lot of adversity.”
“I couldn’t have written," Jerell said, "a better story."
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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