Former Miami tight end Ryan Smith isn’t interested in starting life in the “real world.”
At least not yet.
After getting cut by the Green Bay Packers at the end of 2018 training camp, Smith is back in professional sports. In May, he signed to play rugby for Old Glory D.C., with the hopes it will launch him back into the NFL.
And he doesn’t want to hear anyone’s thoughts on growing up and getting a traditional job.
“I’m not ready to hang up the cleats yet,” Smith said. “Once you make that transition from college to the working world, there’s a lot of growing up to be done. I just don’t think I need to go do that yet.”
Since his Miami career ended November 21, 2017 against Ball State, Smith has relentlessly pursued his dream of professional football on an unpredictable path, full of promising highs and uncertain lows.
Though the 6-foot-4-inch native Chicagoan did not hear his named called during the 2018 NFL Draft, he did receive a tryout opportunity from the Green Bay Packers. Unlike draft picks and undrafted free agents, Smith’s only way to make a roster was through proving himself at rookie minicamp.
“I feel like I thrive under pressure,” Smith said. “I can’t screw this up because, if I do, there goes my opportunity.”
Smith, weighing in at 265 lbs., earned his shot at participating in Packers training camp not just through physical ability, but also as a result of tirelessly studying Green Bay’s playbook between practices and late at night during rookie camp.
Following a solid showing at his tryout, Smith was approached by former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and asked how he would feel about becoming a Green Bay Packer. For Smith, moving on with his life seems foolish when he looks back at the sheer joy this moment brought.
“It was a dream come true,” Smith said. “I’m getting the chills just talking about it.”
Yet the path to being a Packer for the regular season remained unsure, as the stresses of NFL training camp would decide Smith’s 2018 professional football fate.
Smith’s hot summer days of training camp would begin at 5 a.m. and included three hours of competing against Pro Bowl tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Jimmy Graham in practice. When he wasn’t practicing, Smith took part in two workouts per day as well as five hours of meetings.
No, this was not the real world of clocking in and out of a desk job. It was harder.
Smith recalled one specific instance where a rookie linebacker made the same mistake twice in one practice. Before the practice ended, the player was approached by a scout and cut from the team.
“I know it’s cutthroat,” Smith said. “But I didn’t think it was going to be like that.”
Smith’s life also included facing Packer defenders each day in practice.
Including All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews.
The tight end quickly realized while trying to block Matthews that NFL competition is a different challenge than what he went up against in Tuesday night Mid-American Conference games.
“That man is a freak of nature,” Smith said. “He is a physical specimen, and he’s a very good football player.”
Smith, however, is not a freak of nature. Nor is he a fringe Hall of Fame tight end like Lewis and Graham. As a result, he is no longer a Green Bay Packer.
On the final day of cuts to finalize a 53-man roster, Smith received a call from Packers coaches to bring in his iPad and playbook. His short-lived career with the Packers was over.
“I knew I had a tough possibility of making the team,” Smith said. “It’s a business. That’s how it goes.”
Suddenly, for the first time in over a decade, Smith was faced with a world without playing football. He moved back to his hometown where he served as a wide receiver coach on a high school coaching staff and found a job at a local deli.
When January of 2019 rolled around, Smith moved back to Oxford to finish up his undergraduate history degree from Miami. The days of reach blocking Clay Matthews and NFL training fade further and further into the past.
But Smith still dreams of similar days ahead.
He moved decisively against a typical lifestyle when he signed with Old Glory D.C. as a professional rugby player. No, there are no guarantees that it will lead him back to an NFL practice field, but Smith knows he would never forgive himself if he rushed out of his playing days.
“I’m only this young once,” Smith said. “I feel like I would regret it if I did hang the cleats up.”
One day, Smith wants a family. He plans to coach high school football in the evening and teach during the day.
But today is not that day. The real world can wait.