GREEN BAY—He had never previously played the position in a game or even in a training camp practice, but something inside Brandon Smith told him to break on the ball and now he found himself running down the sideline with the ball in his hand, his once seemingly dead football career revived.
Smith is one of the desperate dreamers, most of whom never have a moment as Smith did in the Packers' opening practice of training camp. If he never does another thing, he'll remember what he did on this day.
"It was an awesome feeling. I felt like I was running pretty fast, but he was running right with me and down there giving me a high five," Smith said, referring to his coach, Joe Whitt.
Let's start at the beginning, 2011, when Smith was a wide receiver who failed to stick following tries with the Panthers and the Seahawks. Football, it appeared, was in his rearview mirror.
He spent the next two seasons out of the game, but it stayed in his heart. He wasn't ready to quit on it. He decided to reinvent himself as a cornerback.
"What made me make the switch was the market in the NFL. They're looking for big, strong, physical corners. I said that fits my description," Smith said.
At 6-1, 205, Smith has the kind of size and speed that are rare to the cornerback position. It's also important to note that Sam Shields was a wide receiver who converted to cornerback in college at Miami.
"Coach told me he had a couple of guys that turned over from wide receiver," Smith said.
Smith credits Whitt with providing the confidence Smith has needed in making the move to cornerback. It's support that couldn't have come at a better time, as Smith lost his mother this past May, the Mother's Day month.
"We kind of connected and he saw my talent right off the bat. He's been my confidence. His confidence in me is carrying me through this," Smith said.
It was Smith's dogged determination, however, that got the ball rolling. He worked his way into a super regional combine in Dallas, a platform for second-chance athletes, this past April. His performance there earned him a look as a tryout player in the Packers' rookie camp in May, from which the Packers signed Smith to a contract.
His football odyssey, however, reached its zenith on Friday. He left Packers fans that jammed Ray Nitschke Field to watch Aaron Rodgers throw passes, to ask each other, "Who's the guy that intercepted that pass?"
"It was cover zero and I was manned up with my guy. Don't get beat cause there's no help over the top," Smith recalled. "He had high shoulders and gave a slight look back to the quarterback. I looked back to the quarterback and saw he was getting ready to throw the ball."
Smith stepped in front of the receiver, intercepted the pass and was down the sideline, his coach in tow.
"As long as I can put plays together like that, talent wise I feel like I can play with the best," he said. Additional coverage - July 26