Just days into his first National Football League tryout, Andover's Brendan Smith knew it was over.
"I had gotten myself into shape," he said. "But the pain I was having on a daily basis, in the daily activities, it was clear that I wasn't in the condition to perform the way I needed to. I had to make the decision."
Following a stellar but injury-marred career at Northwestern, Smith earned a tryout with the NFL's Washington Redskins in May. But when his physical problems continued to plague him, Smith made a crucial career determination.
The former Andover High quarterback made the decision to retire from his playing career, and earlier this month accepted a coaching position at Oklahoma State.
"I have no regrets," said Smith. "Injuries are part of the game, and I gave it my all. I am thrilled about my new opportunity as a coach. I always knew it's what I wanted to do when my career was over."
Smith was a rare freshman starter at Andover High, spending two years as the Golden Warriors' quarterback (2000-01). He then transferred to New Hampton for three seasons — two of which ended with Super Bowl victories.
But his greatest accomplishments were yet to come, as he earned a full scholarship to Division 1 Northwestern. As a true (non-redshirt) freshman, Smith earned the starting job at safety and made 16 tackles and picked off two passes in nine games. He made a major jump as a sophomore, finishing second on Northwestern in tackles with 68 (48 solo) and making a team-high three interceptions.
But in his junior season, injuries began to strike. During preseason workouts, he suffered a torn labrum and dislocated shoulder. He attempted to play for three games, but the pain persisted and he underwent season-ending surgery, sitting out the Wildcats' final eight games and earning a medical redshirt.
He returned full-speed for the 2008 season, starting 13 games at safety, finishing third on the team with 82 tackles and picking off two passes.
But Smith's senior season was again interrupted by pain. He suffered a broken thumb that required a screw to be inserted, and he played in just eight games, making 40 tackles.
"I was playing in a lot of pain," he said. "Right after my senior season I underwent surgeries for bone spurs and torn labrums in both my hips. I had played with it for a while, but having that surgery gave me a chance to play."
Still hoping for an opportunity in the NFL, Smith had to push to prepare.
"That surgery usually requires a six-month rehab," Smith said. "I had to do it in three months if I was going to have an opportunity."
Smith received his chance with the Redskins. But it soon became clear that his playing career was at an end.
"It was very frustrating," he said. "I had success. The number of surgeries just kept adding up, and it didn't make a career in the NFL possible. I knew it was going to be tough, and I trained very hard. I was in shape. But once I got to camp I could see my body had enough.
"I don't regret a thing. I am thankful I had the chance to be a four-year starter and two-year captain at Northwestern. I played in three Bowl games. There were a lot of positives."
But Smith would not be out of the sport for very long.
"I began looking for a coaching job and had spoken to Florida State," Smith said. "Then my coach at Northwestern (Pat Fitzgerald) said to expect a call from Oklahoma State. They called me and said that coach Fitzgerald gave me such a good recommendation that they had to offer me a job. I couldn't turn it down."
Smith accepted a position as a "quality control" coach, working with defensive backs and special teams for the Cowboys under associate head coach Joe DeForest. The Cowboys began camp on July 8.
"I feel blessed for this opportunity," said Smith. "To be working for a team this good right away is remarkable. I knew that I wanted to stay in football and always wanted to be a coach at the college level. It gives me the chance to be in the game without taking the pounding."
Ironically, Smith believes the very thing that ended his playing career gives him an advantage in his new profession.
"When I was injured, I'd be on the sidelines with a headset communicating with the coaches in the booth," he said. "In games and practices I spent my time working with the younger kids, giving them tips I picked up over the years. When you are playing hurt, which I often was, you can't rely on your physical abilities. You rely on the mental side of the game, which I need for coaching."
• • •
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.
Sorry, there are no recent results for popular commented articles.