SOUTHLAKE, Texas – Rod Smith is trying to get into the Las Vegas Vipers of the resurgent XFL, which is starting in mid-February, and the Harding graduate is approaching the challenge with a half-full mentality.
“This is definitely a great opportunity to release a movie for the guys to get a shot at the NFL level or get back to the NFL,” Smith said during the first week of training camp. “There is a lot of talent here. It’s just another way to show that you can play.”
But the former tri-sport star with the Hawks is far from your average XFL player. Not only is Smith older than most in the league (31), he also has 55 NFL games. In total, he spent time with five different teams in the league, including two times with the New York Giants. His most recent NFL experience was with Charlotte in August 2021.
Ironically, his Las Vegas coach is Fort Wayne native Rod Woodson, an 11-time professional bowler in 17 NFL seasons. The Snyder alum is delighted to have a hometown star on the roster and believes the Smith-pedigree veteran can serve as a shining example to his younger teammates of what it takes to succeed and stay in the NFL.
“Having that kind of leadership is very important,” Woodson said. “The great thing about him is that he is not a quiet leader. He is vocal. He’s going to talk to the guys. He will be first in line.
“It’s quite nice to have that kind of calm in the attacking part.”
Growing up in Fort Wayne and respecting Woodson, Smith admits that playing for someone he respects is a good twist of fate.
“Never played against him. He was always my hometown hero growing up,” said Smith, who played for Ohio State. “Being able to go to war with him is a dream come true.”
As Smith’s NFL career has evolved, he has evolved from a more hands-on leadership style with his younger teammates to a more personal example of giving advice. However, that doesn’t mean he still won’t show a younger teammate how to do things right from time to time instead of telling him.
“I know a lot about the game, met a lot of great guys and learned a lot from them,” Smith said. “I’m at a stage where I can fight back, but I can also, instead of just telling you what to do, I can go in there and show you. I am still an athlete and love to compete. Being an athlete and competing against professional athletes is something I have always loved to do.”
And whether his time in the NFL has passed or his rather brief stint in the XFL, Smith’s approach to the game has always remained the same, which is another reason Woodson finds it invaluable to have veterans like Smith on his roster.
“It’s all about going out there and being a professional first and foremost, being consistent, being able to be the guy that your teammates and your team and your coaches can rely on,” Smith said. “It’s all about learning how to put together a system that works for you.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Smith has played professionally in Dallas. He was with the Cowboys between 2015 and 2018 where he was a teammate with younger brother Jaylon, a Bishop Luers alum who is now a linebacker for the New York Giants from 2016 to 2018.
And 48 of Smith’s 55 NFL games have been with the Cowboys, so it’s understandable that he has an emotional attachment to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“Oh yeah, nice to be back,” he said. “It’s good to just be around guys who really want it. We all have one goal. We are trying to achieve something, but the focus is on preparing for the game and winning this championship.”
However, no matter where he played or what league he played in, Smith continues to take pride in representing his hometown well every time, whether it’s practice or a game.
“Dude, Fort Wayne is home. I’m from the south, but I like the whole city,” Smith said. “It’s always a pleasure to represent them, because a lot of talent has passed through Fort Wayne, but for some reason it hasn’t been widely known. As a hometown hero, I’m proud of it.
“I don’t let it go to my head, always remain humble and just love to lead by example.”