AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Syracuse running back Jerome Smith was one of 36 underclassmen to go undrafted last week, a record number that has brought renewed attention to the whole topic of declaring early for the NFL.
But Smith was in a unique situation. He already has graduated and went into the draft knowing full well there was a chance he would not get selected. Once the draft ended Saturday, he signed as a free agent with Atlanta and joined former teammate Marquis Spruill, drafted in the fifth round.
"He got his degree from SU, and he just wanted to go out there and give it his best shot and let the cards fall where they may," Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. "He said, 'Coach Shaf, all I care about is getting into camp and then proving myself.' That’s what he’s looking forward to. He and Marquis will be together so that will be nice having those two have each other to lean on throughout the process. It’s hard when you go to a pro camp and you’re alone so that will help both Jerome and Marquis."
Shafer said he and Smith talked at length about the decision to leave school, but he never tried to talk Smith into returning.
"I don’t believe in doing that unless a kid has not graduated," Shafer said. "I always tell the parents during the recruiting process, I say I can’t promise you your son’s going to be a great player here. I can’t promise you that he’s going to get to the NFL, but I can promise you he’s going to get his degree from one of the best institutions in the country. From my point of view, it’s about getting your education first and foremost and understanding how that’s going to be life-changing more so than chasing the dream."
A record 98 underclassmen declared for the 2014 draft. But as always, context is important to each and every choice these players made. That especially applies to Smith, a 6-foot, 226-pound bruiser whose specialty is the power run game.
He now has his shot at the NFL. But best of all, he has his degree.