Jerome Smith: Delaware high school football player to NFL running back

    The NFL season is under way with training camps open around the league. One Delaware connection for a former Pencader High School star could be with the Atlanta Falcons.

    Jerome Smith has been working for the past 18 years at becoming the football player that he is today. The 24-year-old running back for the Atlanta Falcons is finally living his dream.

    “My mom thought that football would be a perfect sport for a boy to play and she got me into it,” said Smith. “I’ve been playing since I was six.”

    Growing up and playing little league in Chester, Pa., Smith played a variety of positions from center to tight end to running back.

    “I think it’s really funny now that I play running back that I first started off as playing center,” said Smith. “My first position was center and I really took to it. I loved hitting people, so ever since then, it’s been a part of me.”

    Toward the end of his sixth-grade year, Smith’s mother moved him and his two younger siblings to Bear, Delaware, in hopes of a better education system for her children.

    Smith attended Pencader Charter High School in New Castle, Del. from 2006 to 2010. During his time there, football became a big part of his life through gaining mentors and learning valuable lessons in the game.

    “The coaching staff I had, they made me a complete player on and off the field,” said Smith. “[They] made sure I was becoming a leader and made sure I was taking care of business in the classroom. Like we all know, there’s a lot of good football players, good athletes, but if you can’t do it in the classroom, then nobody will ever get to see it.”

    It was the last game of his high school career where Smith learned one of his biggest lessons in football.

    Smith and the Pencader Titans were in the playoffs playing against Hodgson Vo-Tech High School. Pencader was winning, 21-0 but ended up losing by one point.

    “We had the opportunity to kick a field goal and tie it or go for the win and go for two,” said Smith. “We went for two; we didn’t get it; we lost in the semifinals of my senior year.

    This game taught Smith several lessons that he would take into his career today.

    “It taught me, if you’re going to do it, go big. If you’re going to go for the win, let’s go for the two-point conversion. Let’s not win in overtime, let’s win right now.”

    It wasn’t until Smith’s junior year in high school that he began to consider a future career in football. With his first offer being from the University of Wisconsin, a school known for running backs and tradition, Smith chose instead to attend Syracuse University.

    “I went to a Syracuse camp and I worked out,” said Smith. “Fifteen minutes after being there, they gave me a full ride. That let me know it was possible after I got that offer.”

    While at Syracuse, Smith started in 26 straight games, rushed 2,000 yards and won back-to-back Pinstripe Bowl games. With one year left to play, due to a red-shirt year given after tearing his labrum during his freshman year.  He felt he had accomplished what he set out to do, so Smith decided it was time to leave Syracuse.

    Smith entered the 2014 NFL draft, which happened to be on the same day he graduated from Syracuse. He was not drafted.

    After the draft, Smith worked out with and received calls from several different teams but chose to sign with the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent and member of its practice squad.

    “A few teams called and I chose Atlanta,” said Smith. “It felt like the right fit and up-to-date, it’s been the right fit.”

    Smith was promoted to the Falcons’ active roster on Christmas Eve 2014 and has learned what it takes to put in the extra time and try to work harder than everybody else.

    “College gives you four years to make it happen,” said Smith. “In the NFL you have to bring work every day.”

    With Falcons training camp beginning on July 31, Smith’s goals for the upcoming season are to make the team, stay healthy, continue to get better each day and remember that ‘the hay is never in the barn.’

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.