Shaun Smith is the epitome of the saying hard work pays off.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Smith made quite the change in high school. He moved from one of the biggest metropolises in the world to the agriculturally-focused Midwest in Wichita, Kansas, where he played his last two years of high school football.
Instead of going straight to a four-year school upon graduation, Smith had to take the junior college route. He played at JUCO powerhouse Butler County Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas for two years, where he racked up 128 tackles, 33 for loss and had 20 sacks as a defensive lineman. He was named an All-American in 2000.
At former Gamecock Langston Moore's third-annual Eat2Win camp, Smith admitted that taking the JUCO route was a lot of extra work, something that he is more than used to.
"Man, it's a grind all the time," Smith said. "You're always grinding and you're like, 'I've got to keep proving myself, keep proving myself.'"
After those outstanding two years, Smith's dreams of playing at a major college came true when he signed with South Carolina in 2001. In two years with the Gamecocks, Smith recorded 49 tackles and a sack; 38 of those tackles and the sack came in Smiths' senior season in 2002. Smith wasn't drafted by any NFL teams after his senior year but he wasn't ready to give up football.
He signed a free-agent deal with the Dallas Cowboys in 2003 and spent the year on the team's practice squad. One year later, Smith made the active roster with the New Orleans Saints. He started one game for the Saints in 2004 and made nine tackles. That was the first of 10 straight years that Smith spent in the NFL playing for five different teams.
His best season came in 2007 with the Cleveland Browns. Smith started a career-high 11 games, making a career-high 62 tackles to go along with three pass deflections, two sacks and a forced fumble. In 2010, Smith recorded his first and only rushing touchdown of his career when the 325-pound tackle barreled into the end zone from a yard out against the Seattle Seahawks while with the Kansas City Chiefs.
He finished his NFL career with 244 tackles, four sacks, four pass deflections and two forced fumbles.
It was quite a career for a player that wasn't able to go to a major program out of high school and went undrafted after college football.
"Not getting drafted in the NFL and still being able to go on and play 10 years, I had to grind," Smith said. "I know what hard work is."
Nowadays, Smith, who currently lives in Frisco, Texas, is spending most of his time tutoring young kids about how important it is to work as hard as he did at everything in life. He's a part of Moore's You Only Block Yourself (YOBY) program that trains lineman for a future in college and pro football. YOBY operates in South Carolina and Dallas, Texas and Smith said they are hoping to expand it to Charlotte with the help of a few more former NFL players.
In 2013, Smith accomplished another life goal of his. He came back to South Carolina and finished his African-American Studies degree.
"I walked across the stage and showed my kids what you can get if you work hard for it," said Smith, who hopes to someday coach at South Carolina. "I promised my mom I was going to do it."
Smith is trying to pass on the information he learned in his long football career, saying it's something that he wished he had when he was growing up.
"You've got a guy telling you everything, how to make it, so why not?" Smith said. "I've got the blueprint. I'm going to tell you. I'm living the dream and giving back to these kids."
Smith is a great example of what can happen if you don't let obstacles get in your way. There were countless times when Smith could have decided it was too much traveling around and too much uncertainty. But he didn't give up and went on to have a decade long pro career, something that not many people can claim.
Hard work pays off no matter who you are.
"You can come in college and be a five-star athlete or a one-star athlete, it doesn't matter," Smith said. "As long as you finish and get your degree and do everything you need to do, you'll be alright."
**Story by Kyle Heck/AP file photo**