Notre Dame football's Daniel Smith focuses on artwork -- for now
SOUTH BEND — Daniel Smith not only knows what life after football might look like for him, the former Notre Dame football player and South Bend Clay High graduate has put that mental picture into motion.
Roughly two months away from attaching a Notre Dame degree to his passion for marketing, Smith already has his hand in peddling his own artwork online (sonsoftyce.com), collaborating with good friend and South Bend Washington grad Lebbaeus Davidson on the latter’s Lavish Train clothing line, designing logos, and dabbling in 3D modeling and 3D printing.
His toughest marketing decision to date, though, involves his own football future, which Smith insists is still in play.
It just won’t be on display Thursday, when 16 other former Irish football players will show up at the Loftus Center for Notre Dame Pro Day.
As of Monday night, 23 of the 32 NFL teams were planning to take in ND’s home-field advantage version of the NFL Scouting Combine, though that number is fluid. The Irish prospects will be directly competing that day, notably, with pro days at Stanford and Missouri, and with Fresno State QB Derek Carr’s throwing exhibition. Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, in play to be the first overall pick in the May 8-10 NFL Draft, throws for scouts Wednesday in Orlando.
The participation level at ND ranges from players like linebacker Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox doing all, or virtually all, of the physical tests to defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, who may meet with teams but is expected to do nothing more physical than shaking hands. And he might not be the only Irish draft prospect who takes that stance.
In the middle is gregarious nose guard Louis Nix, who said he plans to perform the bench press (which he skipped at the NFL Combine at Indianapolis in late February) and one of the agility drills — and somehow has attracted two different film crews to document his every move and word.
Fox, Calabrese, defensive lineman Kona Schwenke, kicker Nick Tausch and quarterback Tommy Rees are the five Pro Day participants from the 2013 Irish team that didn’t get NFL Combine invites, amping up the importance of Thursday’s event for them. Two players who last played for the Irish in 2012 and spent time in NFL camps last offseason, wide receiver Robby Toma (Arizona) and offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr. (Pittsburgh) return Thursday to campus to try to get a second look.
As of late last week, Smith was strongly considering joining them, five months removed from fracturing both the tibia and fibula in his lower left leg in what turned out to be his final college game — a 37-34 win over Arizona State at Arlington, Texas, on Oct. 5. Smith underwent surgery roughly a week later and had a plate and multiple screws inserted.
But after talking with his brother-in-law, former Irish standout safety Gerome Sapp, Smith scratched himself from Thursday’s audition.
“I believe the injury is healing faster than expected,” Smith said Monday night. “I just didn’t feel comfortable I could compete yet at my highest level. I don’t want to represent myself in the wrong way and I don’t want to risk injury again so soon.
“I’ve been cleared by the doctors, but in terms of cutting, I really don’t feel comfortable doing that. It’s not like it’s something that’s always going to linger with me. I can run straight forward, but it’s just not with the same explosion right now that I know I still have. This is a different injury for me, and something I have to get used to.”
But being injured is not new for Smith, a recurring theme that time and again separated the 6-foot-4, 213-pounder’s production from the potential the Irish coaching staff never gave up on.
Smith became known as a blocking specialist, and his one catch for nine yards in the six games in which he did play in 2013 seems to suggest that might be his only dimension. But in rare healthy stretches, Smith showed more. So scattered were they, though, that opportunity to be a pass-catching threat rarely aligned itself with coach Brian Kelly’s bigger picture.
A Pro Day setting seemingly would give him a back door to an NFL opportunity. Smith is confident he could run a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, or better. When he was tested in the vertical jump his sophomore year at ND, he leaped 38 inches. That would have put him in the top 10 among wide receivers at the NFL Combine in one of the deepest wideout classes in memory.
The former high school high jumper and long jumper, and standout basketball player’s hope is that when healthy he can crack an invitation for a tryout with an NFL team, and that his athleticism will offset the lack of production on tape.
“It’s a business, so you never know if you’re actually going to get that opportunity,” Smith said. “And if I don’t get a tryout, I might do what Robby and Mike are doing and come back to Pro Day next year. They kind of opened my mind to that possibility.
“But playing football is something I’m still interested in. It’s something I grew up doing and love doing, so it’s still a dream of mine. I’m not giving up on it.”
But he is moving forward with Plan B.
Smith still can’t bring himself to watch a replay of the play that truncated his college career and simultaneously set his entrepreneurism into overdrive.
“From the moment it happened, I told myself I wasn’t going to be someone they had to stop the game for,” Smith said. “So I was going to try to get up. I think it was (teammate) Zack Martin who told me just to stay down.
“I guess they knew immediately that it was broken. They didn’t tell me that. The only thing they told me at that point was not to step on it. And the first thing I did was step on it. And it was the worst idea ever.”
The best idea was to use all of his newly found spare time to cannonball into the business world. He had recently switched majors from accounting to marketing, and he quickly put his ideas into practice.
“My sisters majored in accounting, and I kind of followed them down that road,” Smith said. “But it just wasn’t me. I like being creative. It’s always been something that’s been a part of me, being creative.
“Getting back into the artwork and other stuff started was a way to distract myself from being injured. It’s something I always enjoyed doing, but I never put anything out there until now. Once I did, people showed they liked it. So it’s actually started to turn into a small graphic design agency. Considering I started from nothing, I’m very proud of it.”
Tuitt recently provided a few details about his mystery injury discovered at the NFL Combine and some of the still-clandestine details of his impromptu workout less than a week later.
In a draft diary Tuitt wrote for FoxSports.com, the projected late-first- or early-second-round draft choice confirmed he had surgery a little over a week ago to repair a tiny fracture in his foot.
“I can already walk and I feel great,” he wrote.
He performed, by his estimate, for more than 20 teams — with the injury and before surgery — at the Lovett School in the Atlanta area on Feb. 28.
“My heart completely stopped,” Tuitt wrote when he was first told of the injury. “Everything happens for a reason and I just stayed strong.”
The following 16 former Notre Dame football players are expected to show up for ND's Pro Day, Thursday at the Loftus Center. Their level of participation will widely vary: George Atkinson III, Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Mike Golic Jr., Bennett Jackson, TJ Jones, Zack Martin, Troy Niklas, Louis Nix III, Tommy Rees, Kona Schwenke, Prince Shembo, Nick Tausch, Stephon Tuitt, Robby Toma and Chris Watt.