FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith teamed up with his brother, ex-Cowboys running back Rod Smith, to host their third annual "Earn Your Stripes" camp at St. Francis University.
The Smith brothers are both from Fort Wayne, Jaylon a Bishop Luers alumnus and Rod a Paul Harding product, and encourage local youth athletes to endeavor to persevere at their annual camp.
"It's something that we dreamed of our entire lives that we had an opportunity we would have a camp and have all the kids out and give back," Jaylon said. "During our childhood, we were able to go to camps of Rod Woodson and Jason Baker, things of that nature. So, it's all about paying it forward and that's why we're here."
Over 250 kids signed up to attend camp. It was a great turnout after weather not cooperating the first year and low attendance despite high registrations in year two. With over 250 campers in attendance, the Smith brothers made sure to emphasize that hard work is an aspect of life not just confined to sports.
"Our motto of this camp is just earning your stripes," said Jaylon. "We put a lot of hard work into our lives and growing up to get to where we are today. Regardless of sports, you have to earn your stripes."
Rod, who is now with the New York Giants, says the messaging of the camp is for kids to compete.
Said Rod: "Really to come out here and compete. You got to earn your stripes. You have to start somewhere and nothing really is going to be handed to you in life. You just have to go out there and compete and work and work with others."
Both Smith brothers are examples of "earning your stripes" in one form or another. For Rod, he made the NFL as an undrafted free agent from Ohio State in 2015. Smith worked his way up on the Seattle Seahawks' practice squad to active roster before being cut after Week 5 of his rookie year. Smith landed on the Cowboys' active roster, where he remained until 2018. In that tenure, Smith played special teams, tried his hand at fullback, and did whatever he could to stay on the 53-man roster.
For Jaylon, he tore his ACL and LCL in his final collegiate game at Notre Dame in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, which plummeted the blue-chip talent's draft stock. Dallas selected Smith in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft, but Smith spent his entire rookie year recovering from the injury, including regaining feeling in his foot. Ultimately, Smith bounced back and is considered a leader on the Cowboys defense.
"We had three years of it and it’s the business," Jaylon said. "It’s the game of football. But we’re blessed to be able to play the game that we love."
Even though they are not on the same team any longer, the Smith brothers still use their platform to give back to the Fort Wayne community, which makes everyone involved a winner.
Do you see Jaylon Smith taking another step forward as he becomes one of the veterans on the defense? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.