SportOpinion: Cowboys' LB Smith’s passion play away from football is to boost business dreams
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Jaylon Smith’s other playbook begins with his three C’s.
“Chemistry. Character. Competency,” is how the Dallas Cowboys linebacker put it during a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports.
Smith has less than a month before beginning training camp as a rising star on an emerging defense, which is impressive enough considering the major knee injury he suffered in his final game at Notre Dame that cast serious doubt on his pro prospects.
Truth is, there was sentiment he’d never come close to becoming the impact linebacker that is. Yet, in tackling that comeback, Smith, 24, has wasted no time pursuing his passion away from football. As much as he’s eager to help this new generation of Cowboys break through to become a legitimate championship contender, Smith is bent on using some of his NFL resources to boost the dreams of minority entrepreneurs.
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On Friday, Smith will host the finals of a venture pitch competition in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana dubbed the Indiana Showcase, which flows out of the minority entrepreneurship institute he established.
Five finalists, narrowed from a field of 65, are vying for a chunk of $300,000 in start-up cash and other forms of business development support. Smith and three Indiana business owners, including former Colts linebacker Gary Brackett, will judge the entrants.
Think Shark Tank with a grassroots twist. Let the best pitch win.
“I want to close the gap,” Smith declares.
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It’s a noble pursuit. Smith, whose father is a mechanical engineer and mother worked as a nurse before establishing a day-care center, says he is driven to help minority entrepreneurs compete – and fitting, they’ll compete against each other for the top prize -- in a business environment where promising concepts are so often snuffed out by the details.
“A lot of us want to be successful, but we don’t always have the mentorship and strategic planning,” Smith said. “Part of this is to increase the assets and provide for people who can make a difference.”
Ask about his advice for new business owners and a “clear-eye view” (the line of eye wear he has produced and markets is “Clear-Eye View”) emerges. He is keenly aware that more new businesses fail than survive.
“Management matters so much for what companies will succeed or not,” Smith said. “You have to have definite criteria. Once you grow, you’ll need people to assist you. You want to be able to surround yourself with the right type of people.”
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That’s where his 3 C’s come in. Sure, it sounds cheesy. But the principles matter.
“You have to understand what you need, what you want and what the vision looks like,” he said.
Of course, Smith is in close proximity to an ultimate business success story in Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a self-made billionaire who in 1989 invested his family’s entire range of assets – built largely in oil and gas exploration – to purchase an NFL franchise for roughly $250 million. Now the Cowboys are the most valuable sports franchise in the USA, worth at least $5 billion according to Forbes.
Smith said he’s had little conversation with Jones about business development, but he aims to have those types of chats. He envisions Jones as a potential mentor. Perhaps it will add a layer when Smith talks long-term contract with his current employer.
“Just from doing my research, it was amazing how he developed the resources to buy the Cowboys,” Smith said. “That’s inspired me.”
You may wonder how Smith came to find this as a calling. You could suspect that the blown out knee – he tore the ACL and MCL, in addition to suffering nerve damage -- that significantly devalued his draft stock was a certain kind of trigger. After the injury in the Fiesta Bowl, Smith’s draft stock plummeted from top five in the first round to projections he would fall to the fourth round. The Cowboys drafted him with a second-round pick, then waited patiently through rehab and various stages of progression for him to regain his football mojo.
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Still, Smith insists that his off-the-field focus doesn’t flow from any epiphany about the perils of football. Instead, his comeback sharpened a mission that was already in the works.
“I’ve always recognized the risk in football,” Smith said. “There’s risk in business, too. The biggest thing is understanding your threats. I knew that one was being injured. I had always prepared for that.”
His late cousin, Eugene Parker, was one of the NFL’s most powerful agents until passing in 2016. Smith credits Parker for being an early mentor. No doubt, Parker would be proud of Smith now.
And if he were unable to come back from the knee injury to flourish in football?
“I’d definitely be a businessman,” he says. “Doing what I’m doing now, some of the entrepreneur projects. It’s all about growth. I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur my whole life.”
Of course, the NFL is big business, too – with or without the head-start Smith has toward other business dreams.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY:
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