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April 18, 2012

Smith comes back to give back

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Between nights spent sleeping on couches, Brian Smith discovered something was missing.

The former Notre Dame linebacker was already without football for the first time since elementary school, his college career over after four years in South Bend and his NFL career seemingly complete after a couple preseason games with the Cleveland Browns. Smith took up residence on the couch of Jonas Gray and Gary Gray last fall, hoping for another NFL shot while stumbling into something more meaningful.

While preparing for a potential job at NCSA in Chicago, a company that employs former collegiate athletes to help high school prospects find potential programs, Smith walked onto a basketball court at a South Bend park. He joined a game with some kids, rekindling his interest in community service.

“There was just something missing and at first I didn’t know what it was,” Smith said. “I enjoyed working with those kids and wanted to find any avenue to do that.”

After being one of the Browns’ final cuts last September, Smith spent a long, uncomfortable fall in South Bend before being picked back up by Cleveland for the season’s final two weeks. He reunited with former teammate Tom Zbikowski when Baltimore hosted Cleveland. He started on special teams.

Smith will return to South Bend on Thursday for the Blue-Gold Game weekend, that memory of helping kids on the basketball court spurring the start of the Brian Smith Foundation and its inaugural Pub Run around South Bend after the spring game.

The event starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Linebacker Lounge near campus. Smith expects former teammates Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, Kyle Rudolph and Ian Williams among the former players in attendance.

More information can be found at BrianSmithFoundation.org as Smith hopes to raise money for Cleveland’s Make A Wish foundation. All proceeds from the event – tickets can be purchased for $30 for the general public and $20 for students on the website – go to the Cleveland organization.

“The Cleveland branch of Make A Wish is really underfunded right now and me being here in Cleveland, I thought this is a great way to give back to a city that’s been good to me the last year,” Smith said.

The event will also include a silent auction, featuring sideline passes to a Notre Dame game, tickets to a San Francisco 49ers game and Smith’s game-worn jersey from the Sun Bowl.

Smith hopes the event and its beneficiaries become a regularity as he works toward earning a second season in Cleveland. He spent the past week training in the Browns’ off-season program.

Being a final cut last September after being told he’d made the team, then waiting nearly three months for another shot the linebacker thought would never come, Smith is grateful his football and community service careers are back on track, no matter how taxing their detours.

“It all just goes to show you how uncertain the NFL is,” Smith said. “I can only control what I do, and even if I do 100 percent the best I can, sometimes it’s not always going to work out. If Peyton Manning’s job isn’t secure in the NFL, nobody’s is.”

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