Thursday, February 13, 2014

Where Are They Now? Toryan Smith

What is a Notre Dame man? When I asked a friend and teammate of Toryan’s to describe who he is, he pretty much defined exactly that: ‘Toryan is as passionate as they come. What you see is what you get. Loyal to those he calls friends and family. He wants to impact those around him and create a positive change in the world. He isn't afraid to "rock the boat." He stands up for what he believes in. He is serious, but doesn't take things too seriously. He enjoys life.’

Toryan Smith, son of Charles Smith, a Georgia Bulldogs football player and assistant high school football coach at Rome High School, decided not to following in his father’s footsteps and play at hometown favorite UGA but to instead travel north and don the gold helmet of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. During his time at Notre Dame, he not only impacted the Irish defense but the special teams squad as well as a hard-hitting inside linebacker who loved the contact and physical aspect of the game. What is Toryan up to these days? Come with me and walk the journey of Toryan Smith.

Q: After growing up in Rome, Georgia, how did you end up playing football at Notre Dame and not near home at UGA?

A: "When I was making the decision whether or not I was coming out of SEC country,  it really came down to the invitation that I received from Notre Dame. I was really sold on Notre Dame and what it had to offer. The biggest selling point? Give us four years and we’ll give you 40. The ‘40 years’ pitch was what got me. Not only that, but I also felt so comfortable when I made my visit to South Bend, I knew it was where I wanted to be.  I was so excited about going to Notre Dame that I literally could not sleep at night -- that’s what ND does to you. My host during my visit was Darius Walker, another Georgia boy -- he helped to reassure me that the transition from Georgia to South Bend was doable. I received offers from every school in the SEC but my top four schools were Alabama, Florida, Michigan, and Notre Dame."

Q: Do you think starting players as freshmen is a good thing or a bad thing?

A: "I think you can look at starting players as freshmen two ways. First,I definitely think starting players in their first year can be a positive experience. Most of all it depends on whether or not the player is ready. If they are ready to contribute, I see no problem starting them right away. In the long run, as a team, you want to have enough depth that you don’t HAVE to start players as freshmen. I think if your team is in the position that you have to start guys as freshmen, especially if they are not quite ready, then that can be a negative experience and you can be doing a disservice to your players and team. Being thrust into such a situation without the adequate preparation can be very damaging.

There are so many expectations that a player is under to perform, to handle the pressure, and to succeed; not only from the coaching staff but also from the fans and the alumni. If they are not ready to handle those expectations,the resulting experience can affect their ability to succeed in the long run. If you look at a team like Alabama, they rarely start freshmen players, but that is because they have developed the depth that they need to not have to start them right away. That is the ideal situation for a team to be in. If they are ready, though, it can be an empowering experience."

Q: What is your best Notre Dame football memory?

A: "My best Notre Dame football memory was playing Michigan State in East Lansing my freshman year (2006).

"My freshman year we played Michigan State on the road and came from 21 points behind to beat MSU. That’s when I really felt the magic of Notre Dame. It was a big-time game and we had a quarterback competing for the Heisman; simply put, it was an epic game, an instant classic. I was just getting used to playing football, the hectic schedule, balancing football and class work. That game really solidified to me that I was an integral part of a big-time football program."

Q: What is your best football road trip experience?

Toryan Smith
A: "My best road trip experience at Notre Dame was playing UCLA at the Rose Bowl. We were having a rough season up to that point and hadn’t won a game yet, but traveling to Los Angeles was unbelievable. We stayed at the Beverly Hilton, were living the high life in LA, and we upset UCLA on its home turf. It was the first win of our season, on ABC, and in primetime at the Rose Bowl. It was also my first start of that season. Definitely a road trip that I won’t soon forget."

Q: What was it like playing for head coach Charlie Weis? How did Weis change during the time you were there?

A: "It was a great experience playing for Coach Weis. He was a great X’s and O’s coach. He was an NFL-style coach and was very business-like in his coaching mentality and how he handled the ups and downs throughout the season. I think in Coach Weis’ first two years everything really clicked. We had an experienced group of players and went to two BCS games. Then in Coach Weis’ third year we had a new quarterback and a young team and went 3-9 and that is when the pressure started. For some reason we just were not able to deal with the ups and downs and the challenges that were put in front of us. Coach Weis did a great job at preparing us for life with his business-like style of coaching. I will always have his back because he gave me the opportunity to go to Notre Dame."

Q: Were you expecting to get drafted to play in the NFL? What was that experience like?

A: "I wasn’t expecting to be selected in the NFL draft being that I was predominately a backup player. I was not on the field with enough consistency for people to really see what I could do. I played through three different defensive coordinators and that didn’t help either. I tried out at the Pro Day and had a few calls but couldn’t get anyone to make an offer. At that point I just wanted to get into the business world and make something of myself. The whole process of trying out for the NFL was amazing. I got to go down and do some serious NFL training, really body-specific training. I learned a great deal about my genetic make-up and learned a lot about my body and how it works/what it can do, and I really enjoyed going through the NFL workouts. I also got to see another side of the NFL: the business side. You have to be able to ride the ups and downs, work through the pain, and maintain your sanity to survive and succeed in the NFL. What I also realized is that this applies to the rest of life as well. The NFL at its core is just another business like anything else!"

Q: What was your biggest challenge as a Notre Dame student-athlete? How did Notre Dame prepare you for life after college?

A: "My biggest challenge was being able to balance the academics and the athletics all at once. The endless hours each week just preparing for football and then on top of that you add the 25-30 hours in the classroom, homework, studying for tests, and being expected to perform at a high level in both arenas. There is such a high standard at Notre Dame in both athletics and academics. Notre Dame would never let you jeopardize your academic goals in order to achieve your athletic ones. It was not a tradeoff, it was not an either/or situation, it was always both. Most of the students at Notre Dame were either valedictorians of their class or big-time athletes. There were no tiny fish in the sea at Notre Dame -- it was a very competitive environment all around.

Being able to perform under such high pressure and intense scrutiny really molded me into a person who can handle just about anything. If I can perform in front of 80 thousand people, being instructed by three different coaches, being hit by my opponent, then I can perform anywhere. Being able to handle all of that pressure and still perform prepared me to face just about any work situation placed in front of me. The hardest part of my day these days is waking up. If I can wake up; physically, emotionally, and mentally, I can accomplish anything. Notre Dame shaped me into the person I am today and this helps me take myself to the next level."

Q: Where did life take you after football?

A: "After graduation I moved straight from South Bend to Los Angeles, California. That is where I wanted to go so I took a business management position with a tobacco company, Commonwealth Altadis, and my territory was in Ventura County and stretched from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica. My title was account manager and I was responsible for the entire business segment -- I was 100% in control of the business. I was leery about selling tobacco but it was a good business. I negotiated the deals with the chain accounts and worked with the purchasing managers of stores like 7-Eleven, Super K, Wal-Mart, and Albertsons to make sure our products were on their shelves. It was fun. I looked forward to doing it every day. And I loved living on the coast -- I almost felt that I was cheating by living somewhere that the weather was so good all of the time."

"In April of 2013 I decided to start a not-for-profit with some of my friends called the Bridges Society of America. It is what I really want to get into and so over the last nine months we’ve been spreading the word and are getting ready to eventually expand and launch it as a nationwide program."

Bridges Society of America (BSA) is a Kansas City, Missouri, based non-profit organization wholly committed to developing the character of young men in Kansas City’s urban center as well as young men across the United States. BSA acknowledges and appreciates the myriad of challenges facing disadvantaged youth and recognizes the pivotal role male mentors play in fostering the development of qualities paramount to a young man’s success in 21st century America. BSA’s mission statement proudly pledges to “help young men in urban areas across America build professional and social relationships that help them achieve their academic and professional goals.” The overarching theme is to employ a vast network of like-minded professionals in an effort to empower young men all over the country in creating their own destinies.

"We are going into urban neighborhoods to connect young men with their communities. We are teaching them how to network in order to connect with their goals both academically and athletically. We’re teaching them how to say ‘Yes ma’am and no ma’am,’ how to pull their pants up, how to dress for an interview, how to place themselves in the best position, and teaching them how to play the game of life. It’s all about presentation. You can set yourself apart from the rest by working with a career center and doing a resume. We are showing them how to strategically place themselves in front of other by being prepared. Preparation is the key to success in anything in life, both on and off the field.

I want to focus on the kids because they are our future. If we can turn a kid around, we can make the world a better place for all of us. If we can get the top kids in the community to become role models, and teach them how to lead in their own community, we can reach kids that we might not otherwise. If we can get one kid, we can get five; and if we can get five kids, we can get twenty -- the whole thing just snowballs! We’re just trying to impact the community any way we can."

Q: I’m curious to learn how you got involved with HuddlePass

A: "One of my teammates was telling me about HuddlePass. He basically gave me the information and introduced me to CJ Bacher, a quarterback out of Northwestern University. Their goal is to have a site where former student-athletes can interact with the fans."

HuddlePass is an interactive community for fans to connect with former student-athletes who wish to share and teach the game. Fans get an insider's perspective and behind-the-scenes access to their favorite teams. Join your favorite team's Huddle and start getting analysis from those who know the program inside and out.

"On most websites you have sportswriters who never gained a ton of playing experience covering the games, but at HuddlePass you are getting articles directly from former athletes and you are able to interact with them and get the story straight from the horse’s mouth. My job is to get former Notre Dame student-athletes involved and to contribute to the website."

Q: What advice would you give current student-athletes?

A: "Definitely get to know your classmates. Quite frankly, these are going to be world leaders moving forward. The people we went to school with are people of outstanding talent and character and will change the world. Get involved, use the network; especially the alumni network because it is so vast. Become active in the alumni network even before you graduate. Right now I consult a bit with the alumni association as well as help the monogram club attract younger members. We’re doing our best to get young people active in the alumni and monogram clubs sooner rather than later."

I’d like to give a big thank you to Toryan for stopping by the blog. It was an absolute pleasure to walk through his journey with him. Stay tuned for many more great stories in the “Where are they now?” series! If you enjoy this series, you can also read more stories in my new book, “Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became.” Signed copies of the book are available through my web site, contact me for more information!