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One return could change his life


The odds are against him, but that's nothing new. The odds have always been against Shaky Smithson.

They were against him ever getting out of Baltimore, but he did, and he made sure his brother got out, too, and that's the centerpiece of the Smithson saga, which begins in Baltimore, moves to East Los Angeles College and Utah, and includes Smithson's 17-year-old brother, whose life wouldn't be nearly as good today if it wasn't for his older brother Shaky.

"I got him when he was 14. I signed with Utah because it's a family-oriented place. I thought it would be a great place for me and my brother to get out of the city environment," Smithson said.

Smithson got legal custody of his brother, Anthony, in June of 2009. Smith was heading into his junior year at Utah, where he was on his way to becoming a college football star, but instead of separating himself from added responsibility and using the free time to enjoy college life and the fame football had afforded him, Smithson accepted the ultimate responsibility. He accepted responsibility for a young life.

"It was taking stress off my mother's shoulders," said Smithson, whose father was in and out of jail, which left four sisters and two brothers in the grip of hard times.

Enter former Packers great Antonio Freeman, a Baltimore native who runs a charitable foundation back in his hometown. Freeman met Smithson at a football banquet and a bond was formed.

"He'll call me, ask for advice. I'm his distant mentor," Freeman said.

These days, Freeman is advising Smithson through a training camp battle to make it onto the Packers roster as an undrafted free agent. Smithson is a lights-out kick-returner. So is Randall Cobb, the Packers' second-round draft pick.

"I told him you can't look at numbers. There are 32 teams in the NFL. You're auditioning for the entire NFL," Freeman said.

It would change an entire family's life, should Smithson find his way onto the Packers roster, or onto the roster of any team in the NFL. He's already changed his brother's life.

"He helped me more than I helped him, growing up early in college," Smithson said. "He's a special kid."

His brother is carrying a 4.0 GPA into his senior year of high school in Salt Lake City, where he quarterbacked the team to a state championship as a junior. The mean streets of Baltimore are a distant memory for Anthony, because of his older brother.

"Growing up back home, you gotta watch your back. You grow up fast in Baltimore. When you're 13, you're 21," Smithson said.

What Smithson found in Salt Lake City is a community that wanted to help. A local church established a fund for Smithson and his brother.

The stage is set for Smithson to take it from here. The nation's No. 1 punt-returner last season needs only a crease here or a crease there to burst into the open field toward making it onto an NFL roster and easy street. The preseason awaits. He'll get his chance.

"If he keeps working hard, he'll catch on with someone. That has to be his attitude," Freeman said.

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