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Michigan State University


NFL presents new challenge for Smoker

Spartans QB must show he can resist temptation

December 30, 2003

BY JEMELE HILL
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

SAN ANTONIO -- Since disclosing his substance abuse problem last October, quarterback Jeff Smoker's life has been carefully controlled.

But those reins officially came off after Michigan State's 17-3 loss to Nebraska Monday night in the Alamo Bowl, placing another great challenge before Smoker, whose comeback was well documented this season.

The next phase of Smoker's life likely will include the NFL -- which means Smoker will get an even better view of those same temptations that nearly swallowed him last year. And in the NFL, no one will hold his hand to help him through it.

"We're cautious about it and we echoed that cautiousness to him," coach John L. Smith said. "He's going to be on his own. He has to make sure he does the right things. He doesn't want a recurrence of what happened before."

Most NFL draft Web sites have Smoker rated in the top 12 among quarterbacks, with Mississippi's Eli Manning considered the top quarterback overall. Those same sites praise Smoker for his skill, but all of them make reference to his personal problems and how they will play a role in his draft positioning.

"Needs to keep his nose clean," one analyst wrote on nfldraftcountdown.com.

This is a hurdle Smith expected Smoker, who has never disclosed what substances he was addicted to, would face. Smoker will need to show the NFL he is not the same person that missed the final five games last season because of rehab.

"He has to go to them and just prove to them what he's all about," Smith said. "That he had a problem, licked the problem and is a different person."

The easier sell, of course, is convincing NFL scouts that he has the ability to make it in the NFL.

Despite struggling in the Alamo Bowl, Smoker has led the Spartans back from a poor 2002 season.

A second-team All-Big Ten selection, Smoker led the Big Ten in passing and total offense. He's the first quarterback in MSU history to reach the 3,000-yard passing mark in one season. Aside from his accuracy, Smoker also has proven he doesn't lock in on one receiver. Four MSU receivers have 30 or more catches.

"It's something I've been trying to work on," Smoker said. "It's not about concentrating on one guy. There are too many receivers out there and too many routes. I don't go out there and focus on one guy."

Smoker has sold the public, his coaches and his teammates on what he can do. Can he sell it to the NFL? A lot of people think so.

"There is not a guy in the country that has put the ball on the money as many times and as accurately has he has," offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin said. "He's the most accurate I've ever seen or been around. He has the ability to stand in the pocket and throw the ball accurately, no matter what's around him and in the presence of pressure."

Contact JEMELE HILL at 313-223-3215 or hill@freepress.com.


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