Akili Smith saddles up

SCOTT FISHER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

Asked what he was doing on this date eight years ago, Akili Smith didn't hesitate for a second.

"I was getting ready for the draft. Yeah, it's coming up," Smith said of tomorrow's NFL Draft (10 a.m., TSN).

"That was a big day. It was a blessing."

Strange choice of words for the former NFL first-rounder, who signed a two-year contract with the Calgary Stampeders yesterday.

Smith, chosen third overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1999 draft, never developed into the star quarterback many envisioned.

Over four seasons with the Bengals, he threw for 2,212 yards and five TDs in 22 games (17 starts). He also tried to catch on with Green Bay and Tampa Bay and, after a couple of years out of the game, went to play with NFL Europe's Frankfurt Galaxy.

"It didn't work out for me," Smith said after some drills at yesterday's free-agent mini-camp at McMahon Stadium.

"I got to start my second year and didn't play well. After that, I played one game in my third year, one game in my fourth year and I was pretty much done.

"There's not too many people who are fortunate to be one of the first few picks. The coaches mentioned today there's only one percent of the world who are considered professional athletes."

It's been two years since Smith returned from Europe and went to work selling real estate in San Diego.

But he couldn't just walk away from the game.

"I've got that burning passion to play more football," he said. "I was working out and I threw for two weeks and I said to myself 'I can still play.'

"My agent called and Calgary said 'bring him on up.' So I'm here now trying to get a starting job.

"I'm 31 years old and I have a lot of football left in my tank. I only have 22 games played in the NFL so I'm still fairly fresh.

"I've still got a lot of gas left."

Smith, who played his college ball at Oregon, was chosen after QBs Tim Couch (Cleveland) and Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia).

After Smith went No. 3, there was Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, who played in the CFL last season, Torry Holt, Champ Bailey -- all household names.

Smith, who got married last weekend, said he is not hoping to return to the NFL.

"Once you're out of the loop, it's hard to get back in there," he said. "I'm not thinking about the NFL."

Stamps GM Jim Barker said Smith is being brought in to push starter Henry Burris.

"Henry's our starting quarterback and has been since we signed him here," Barker said. "We expect him to be our starting quarterback and we need him to elevate his play.

"Any time you bring competition in, it elevates play. Will Akili Smith rise to where he can compete with Henry? That's still unknown."

"How many players have we seen come to this league with great credentials and fizzle?"

EXTRA POINTS

The Stampeders also signed two other players with NFL experience. DL Alonzo Jackson, 26, played with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants and LB Matt Grootegoed, who turns 25 next week, suited up with Detroit.


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