At least one Canadian-born player has been selected in each of the past five NFL drafts, and while there is little doubt their successes have sparked an interest in football for Canadian youth, there is still room for a larger-than-life presence to command the global stage and stoke the “football flame” north of the border.
Enter Tevaun Smith.
With the skyline of his hometown residing on his biceps, and a National Football League dream in his sights, the Toronto native hopes to find success in the spotlight and help propel a nation to football prominence.
“If it’s not me, it’s got to be somebody else. We [Canada] need somebody that’s going to stand out and represent. I want to do whatever I can, not only to inspire kids, but to increase the popularity of the game in Canada and help improve the future for football players back home.”
Previously a standout on the Toronto Metro Wildcats of the Ontario Varsity Football League, Smith has been inching closer to accomplishing that feat since stumbling upon the game in his youth.
“I picked up football when I was about 12 years old. My dad tried to make me play soccer, but I fell in love with football. It stuck with me,” said Smith, who stresses the need for greater infrastructure, training and resources in Canada’s youth football system.
A former student at North York’s Chaminade College School, Smith would later attend Kent School, a private boarding school in Connecticut, where he gained exposure during a strong senior season en route to all-New England accolades.
Smith would parlay his prep school success into several Division I offers, opting to join the Hawkeyes of the University of Iowa. Upon arriving in Iowa City, he immediately identified an opportunity for growth.
“Work ethic. I was never really told that I needed to work harder than I did. I tried to follow the older and best guy and that’s what made me better,” said Smith, identifying fellow wideouts Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley as players he immediately gravitated toward.
The six-foot, 203-pound receiver also brought something extra to his Iowa experience: a sizeable chip on his shoulder from those who doubted he would graduate from high school, let alone play football at the collegiate level. Smith has advice for Canadian youth facing similar challenges in pursuit of their dreams.
“Don’t worry about what people have to say about you. At the end of the day it’s about what you do. Those people will come back to congratulate you. Believe in what you can do, and whoever that one person is that cares about you when you’re young, stick with them and use them as motivation.”
Smith would go on to play in 47 games in the black and gold, amassing 102 receptions and 1,564 total yards in his four seasons at Iowa. In the 2015 Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State, Smith capped off a successful college career with a 110-yard effort, including an 85-yard touchdown that showcased his explosive speed to a national audience.
That hustle was on full display at the Hawkeyes’ pro day in March, where in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams, Smith put up gaudy results that would have placed him in the upper echelon of the NFL Combine charts, including a 4.33 40-yard dash.
“I felt like I had pretty good numbers. I had goals, and those were my goals. It was a successful day for me. I hope I did open a lot of eyes,” said Smith, whose game has been likened in recent months to Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey.
Smith’s pro day was so impressive that it prompted NFL Media senior analyst, and former Dallas Cowboys Vice-President of Player Personnel, Gil Brandt to identify him as a player who should expect to hear their name called over draft weekend.
“Smith had a great workout, and will be a drafted player,” said Brandt.
And while it would be easy to get distracted with all the positive noise surrounding him, Smith is adamant the more eyes he opens, the harder he will work to turn his gridiron dreams into a professional reality.
“What’s important right now is that I stay in shape and take advantage of that opportunity if I do get the chance. As long as I work hard, something good will come out of it.
“I represent guys that have played with me and everybody back home in Canada. I’ve got a lot of people rooting for me and that certainly motivates me. I know not a lot of guys get this opportunity, and to be right there – it’s exciting for me. I’m enjoying the moment.”
As for his draft weekend plans? Smith will remain in Iowa, completing the last of his degree requirements before hopefully stepping onto football’s biggest stage – chip intact.