Don’t bother telling Brett Smith that his dream is dead.
He heard it when he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, from anonymous Twitter experts and all-knowing draft bloggers. That was the first warning sign — bright, loud and ominous.
He heard it in angry, smug, told-you-so choruses when he wasn’t drafted in seven rounds. He heard it again when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut the former Wyoming quarterback following its rookie minicamp.
The words latched onto him like a tick, hovering over his name on website message boards and Twitter feeds:
Mistake. Disappointment. Finished. Done.
At some point, Brett Smith, who signed with the Toronto Argonauts on Sunday, stopped hearing it. Words that had once stung gradually lost their sizzle.
“To be honest with you, I had looked at some of that stuff early in the draft process. Now I’ve gotten to the point where it just doesn’t matter what people say,” Smith said. “I don’t go on Twitter or the Internet looking for bad things that are said about me to try to fuel me or motivate me. I’ve kind of grown out of that.
“Right now, I’m at the point where, it’s my dream. I know that a lot of people aren’t going to believe in me. That’s how it’s always been. But I’m not going to let that dictate whether I’m going to keep going.
“It’s the fact that I still love the game and I still want to do this. That’s why I’m going to keep going.”
Suddenly, months after he chose to end a Wyoming football career that included 8,834 passing yards, 76 touchdown passes, 20 touchdown runs and a slew of school and conference records, Smith devolved into an afterthought — a cautionary tale. The phone stopped ringing. He went home, waited, and quickly faded from public view.
Instead of drowning in his own frustration, Smith stayed busy. In Salem, Oregon, he continued to train and throw, while also spending days working on his grandpa’s farm.
He prepared for a second chance that was never guaranteed.
“Although I had a couple months off, you wake up every single day and you think that it’s a day where you could potentially get a call,” Smith said. “Every day I woke up and realized, ‘OK, I have to work out and throw when I can, because any day I can get an opportunity.’”
Opportunities trickled by, as Smith had a private workout with the New York Giants that ended up going nowhere. But when the NFL turned away, the Canadian Football League extended an offer.
“Basically, after the whole Tampa Bay thing happened, I was pretty disappointed with how the whole thing went down. I came to the conclusion that I’d go home and train, and whatever call I got next, I was going to take,” Smith said.
“It was Toronto. I was excited for the opportunity.”
Smith signed with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts on Sunday, grabbing a spot on the practice squad and flying out of the United States for the first time in his life. It’s not a glamorous situation, in the cellar of the depth chart on a new team, in a foreign country, with no long-term home or guarantee of a prolonged roster spot.
For now, his homework is a thick playbook and his time is split roughly between a practice field and a hotel room. Toronto is a big city, but for Smith it’s a desolate one, hundreds of miles from home, family and any semblance of the life he recognizes.
But though it isn’t littered with cars and signing bonuses, this is Smith’s path. The road to his dream is a jagged one.
“To be honest, I don’t really know what [Toronto’s] intentions were. I got the call, and they said they wanted to sign me to their practice squad,” Smith said. “There are already four quarterbacks up here, but it’s an opportunity and I wanted to jump on it. I was home, and I love being home.
“But at the same time, I want to be playing.”
In a world of burning hypotheticals, one gnaws and corrodes at the hearts of Wyoming football fans.
“You could have been playing at Wyoming,” they think. “You and Craig Bohl could have accomplished something special.”
And while his decision to leave school early is permanent — his uphill climb set dauntingly before him — Smith has thought about it, too.
What if he had made a different decision?
“I definitely would be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind,” Smith said from a hotel room in Toronto. “I’ve thought about it a couple times, especially with the things that have gone down. But at the same time, when I declared I knew it was possibly going to be the hardest decision of my life.
“I knew it was an uphill battle to try to get drafted. I didn’t declare thinking I was going to be the No. 1 draft pick in the draft. I just thought I could put myself in position to be considered one of the top ones, and maybe go in the fourth or fifth round. The fact that it didn’t go that way, that was tough to deal with.”
Hypotheticals, however, won’t get Smith on an NFL roster. They won’t help him climb the ladder in Toronto, or throw extra passes in an empty practice facility while the world around him sleeps. Mistakes are etched in stone. They can be dwarfed by future success, but never erased.
Should Smith have returned to Wyoming? Probably. But while the dream persists, he’ll keep his focus on the challenges in front of him — on the comeback, not the fall.
“After the Tampa Bay thing happened, obviously those thoughts came to my mind,” Smith said. “But you’ve got to keep on pushing. That’s all I’m thinking about, how I can get myself on a roster and do my best to keep the dream alive.”