After a stellar amateur career, big Robert Smith has just one more season of eligibility to play football for the Manitoba Bisons.
More importantly, this Saturday, he has one big opportunity to impress the pro scouts when he suits up in the 12th annual East West Bowl taking place in London, Ontario.
“This is a good opportunity to step forward,” says the 24-year-old Campbell River native. “I’d like to see where this takes me – hopefully to the next level.”
Since his days as a Grade 9 junior player on the Timberline Wolves, Smith has always been one of the biggest, strongest and quickest right tackles on the Island.
After high school he went to play Junior football for the Victoria Rebels and last year he followed quarterback Jordan Yantz to the University of Manitoba.
However, the one thing holding back the 6’6” Smith from becoming an elite player was his weight. In Victoria, his weight began to balloon and shot up into the high 300s, far too much to attact the attention of any pro scout.
However, there was something about the big tackle that caught the attention of Bisons’ head coach Brian Dobie.
“He was so big – too big – but when you saw him move, his hands and his feet are so good!” says Dobie.
And when Smith arrived in Winnipeg, a transformation developed: He bought into the team’s rigorous fitness regime and hit the weight room.
“He’s working hard and he’s changed his body around!” says the coach.
During a phone interview in April, Smith says he’s about 330 pounds and feeling fitter than he ever has.
“It’s a good regime, all running and lifting, and there are consequences if you miss them,” he says, adding that he rarely, if ever, misses a workout. “I’m feeling a lot quicker.”
A quicker, stronger right tackle pleases the coach to no end, who points out that Smith has a good mind for football. Just as good, in Dobie’s opinion, is Smith’s leadership qualities.
“When it comes to responsibility, he’s one of my go-to guys,” says Dobie. “He treats people with respect and he’s such a positive leader – he even helps with recruiting.”
At Saturday’s East West Bowl, the top players from Canadian Interuniversity Sport, will face off at the University of Western Ontario. It’s basically a showcase of talent for Canadian Football League scouts and Smith got in thanks to coach Dobie’s lobby efforts.
“This is very much deserved,” says Dobie. “He’s not a shoe-in (to make the pros) but he has a shot.”
Smith will be suiting up with Team West alongside Bison teammates Yantz, running back Kienan LaFrance and receiver Nic Demski. Smith’s happy for his teammates and is looking forward to strutting his stuff.
“I think I got a shot,” he says of a possible pro career. “But if it doesn’t happen, I won’t have any regrets. I just want to play football and have fun with it.”
Watch the East West Bowl live online at www.cis-sic.tv