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Ex-Duck goes north to find his old form.

Byline: Adam Jude The Register-Guard

Akili Smith was done. And he was OK with that.

Content to put his tumultuous professional football career behind him, Smith returned home to San Diego two years ago following another failed comeback attempt. For the former Oregon quarterback, retirement from football meant quality time with friends and family, as well as a new career in real estate.

Turns out, he could only stay away for so long.

"I went to play pickup basketball with some buddies one day (last winter), and we ended up throwing the football around," Smith said. "I kept telling my buddy to back up some more. I was feeling pretty good."

He also looked pretty good, according to friends and family, who convinced Smith to contact his agent, who then reached out to teams in the Canadian Football League to gauge interest in the former first-round NFL draft pick.

The Calgary Stampeders soon responded with an offer, and Smith signed a two-year contract in April, thankful for one last chance at redemption.

"I just hope to be successful," he said. "I'm praying every night to have the same success I had at Oregon, when throwing three TDs and 300 yards a game was nothing."

Four games into the CFL season, Calgary is 2-2, but Smith has yet to supplant veteran starting quarterback Henry Burris. He said he's happy simply enjoying football again, which is something he didn't do in his well-chronicled disappointment with the Cincinnati Bengals, who drafted Smith third overall in 1999 - with a $10.8 million signing bonus - before releasing him in 2002.

"No matter what happens, I still was blessed to be the third pick in the draft. No one can ever take that from me," he said. "Everyone knows what happened in Cincinnati. I didn't play well, and I'll be the first to say that. We really didn't play well as a team, but as the quarterback, you take responsibility."

Smith's frustrations continued in brief stops with Green Bay and Tampa Bay (he was cut by both), and, in what he thought was likely his last hope, a 2005 stint with the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe that lasted just six games.

Having failed in Europe, he said, "I thought I had put my cleats up for good." Admitting he was "blessed" financially, he was ready to move on.

While in Europe, Smith was intent on proving to NFL teams that he was more than a draft-day cautionary tale. Two years later, his approach has changed - and he hopes his game will eventually follow.

"I felt that way when I went to Europe, but now I don't feel that way," he said, noting his goal isn't to use the CFL as a springboard for another shot at the NFL. "I'm just out here having fun. It's great to be back in the locker room and being around the guys. That's what I really missed."

Smith said he regularly banters with teammate and former Oregon State tailback Ken Simonton about the Beavers and Ducks. He said he has also enjoyed catching up with former UO teammates Jason Maas (Hamilton Tiger-Cats) and Pat Johnson (Toronto Argonauts).

In his most significant action this season, Smith threw three interceptions in one quarter in a loss to Toronto two weeks ago, against a defense that featured former Ducks Kenny Wheaton and Michael Fletcher and is directed by former UO defensive coordinator Rich Stubler.

"It's been kind of tough to adjust to the game here," said Smith, who in two games has completed 12-of-25 passes for 132 yards with no TDs and four interceptions. "There are 12 guys on field, three downs and the field is wider. It's totally different than American football. ... But the bottom line is I still love to line up and play."

Despite the vast adjustments, Smith said he's beginning to grasp the game again. He said the Canadian rules benefit a mobile quarterback, and he's eager to once again display his versatility.

"I'm happy with development," he said. "The game is coming in slow motion, and I'm so thankful that I'm getting to that point again."

Even at his age - he'll turn 32 on Aug. 21 - Smith said he believes he can play for "six or seven years" in the CFL.

"I haven't played much in the last five years. My body is still fresh," he said.

When this latest, and last, comeback is over, Smith said he'll send out resumes in search of any coaching job he can find.

Anything to be content again.
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Title Annotation:Sports; Akili Smith makes another comeback attempt with the Calgary Stampeders
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 28, 2007
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