Anthony Smith may not have known it at the time, but a failure to make the roster of several indoor football teams he tried out for during the winter was leading to something really good.
Smith was down to using his connections to find a place to play, and Wichita defensive lineman Callahan Bright recommended the Wild. Smith tried out again, impressed coach Morris Lolar and made the team.
The persistence from Smith and the gamble by Morris have paid off. Smith, a 5-foot-11, 230-pound linebacker, leads the Wild with three fumble recoveries. He has four sacks and has recorded nine tackles for loss.
The Wild (9-1) plays at Sioux City on Saturday night with a chance to earn the right to host a playoff game.
"This is a great opportunity," Smith said. "The ability to win a championship is in our control, and I don’t want to mess that up, so we try to be focused. At the same time, it’s exciting and I’m happy, and all those things come to mind when I think about it."
Smith has circuited multiple indoor football leagues since a standout career at Bloomsburg University, an NCAA Division II program in Pennsylvania. It’s been tough for Smith to stick in one place, so he often finds himself searching for a job in the offseason.
In 2010, Smith earned a workout with the Arena Football League team in Tulsa, but nothing came of it. He played in Philadelphia in a league sponsored by the AFL team there, and he also has made a stop in Kansas City.
As Smith states in a video posted by the AFL of his 2010 workout, his only goal is to play professional football and take advantage of the chances he gets to do so. Bright led him to Wichita, but Smith earned the spot on the most active defense in the league.
"There are a lot of different types of indoor football and I’ve played a lot of types," Smith said. "Coach Lolar told me (after the tryout) to keep coming downhill, be physical and make plays and be instinctive and you’ll succeed in this league.
"That’s pretty much what they told me coming out of camp, that if I continued to work hard and get stronger and more physical than I should be successful."
The abilities of the Wild’s front line, which includes a trio of pass rushers — James McCartney, Matt Moss and Darius Parish — who have combined for 23 1/2 sacks, allows Smith to play to his strengths and anticipate movements by opposing quarterbacks and running backs.
The tackle-for-loss and fumble recovery totals suggest that Smith has taken the advice of his coaches to play more aggressively, and his team-best 56 tackles indicate that he’s just as valuable to the defense as the three linemen.
"Working with those guys, they’re making my job a lot easier," Smith said. "It takes the quarterback’s eyes off of me. He’s not worrying about me, he’s more worried about the big uglies up front, so that allows me to roam around and get to places the quarterback might not think I am or take attention off of me where other guys can step up and make plays."
In addition to rewarding the team that took a chance on him, part of Smith’s motivation for continued success is a chance to prove wrong the teams that declined his services. His numbers this season may prompt those teams to give him a call next offseason.
"I definitely see this as a showcase," Smith said. "I want to thank Coach Lolar for giving me the opportunity where other teams weren’t willing. Nothing against them at all, I know it’s just business. It’s definitely a showcase of what I’m able to accomplish, but there’s still so much more that can be done so I can’t be too happy."