Bo Smith's college football career was over after the 2006 season, and an injury put his dreams of playing in the NFL on hold. But the former Kentucky standout never quit working.
Smith took a big step toward his goal early last month when he signed a one-year contract with the New York Jets as a cornerback. It's a reserve future contract, so Smith will be able to attend mini-camps and the Jets' main training camp in July.
"They called me on Jan. 3, and it caught me off guard," said Smith, whose agent was trying to get him a tryout. "They wanted to fly me up there the next day. They had me doing some defensive-back drills, and I ran a 40, and all the coaches were, like, looking at their stop watches, and I went over to look at them, too. They were all shaking their heads."
That's because the stop watches read 4.34, which is a fast time even for an NFL cornerback.
He was signed within a few days.
"I've still got my speed," said Smith, who is now 26.
He started at cornerback last year with the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the Canadian Football League. Through a 20-game schedule, he allowed only four touchdown receptions. It was his second full season with Hamilton.
"It was a great difference in style of play," Smith said. "The field is longer and wider, and the receivers get 10 yards to run at you. But I was able to be a lot more physical with them."
Smith, who starred at Owensboro High School, has been working out at a fitness center just outside of his hometown with longtime friend Marc Barnett, a 2007 McLean County High School graduate.
"I know how to get him strong and keep him motivated," Barnett said. "We've got a big hill for him to run right by our house."
Smith is 6 feet, 190 pounds and has learned the value of stretching and working out more thoroughly to keep himself in top condition.
"I've just got to work out and keep staying healthy," said Smith, who has battled hamstring injuries during his career.
Smith was a starter at cornerback during his three years at UK. He was dismissed before the 2006 season for a violation of team rules and finished his collegiate career at Weber State. He played well enough at the former Football Championship Subdivision school as a senior to get invited to the NFL Combine in February 2007.
But he injured a hamstring while there and didn't get picked up by an NFL squad.
Smith worked in Lexington, then tried out for the British Columbia Lions and made the practice squad. He was picked up by Hamilton as a free agent.
His agent, California-based Jill Baxter, kept trying to find a spot in the NFL for Smith to show his talent. That happened after having the kind of season with Hamilton that would have gotten him a favorable contract with a signing bonus.
"I took a risk doing this, but I wanted to keep trying my dream," Smith said.
Pursuing that dream has become more important to Smith since the birth of his son, Tyler Phoenix Smith, who is 18 months old. Tyler is in Lexington now, but Smith plans to get him this weekend and keep him in McLean County until he leaves for the Jets' first mini-camp in March.
"I've kept fighting to stay in it because I love the game, and I want to take care of my son," said Smith, who wears a necklace with a picture of Tyler on it.