Rodney Smith was looking for a three-peat. The new Carolina Panthers running back tweaked his recipe for success from the previous two years, knowing you don’t improve without putting in the extra time and practice to get better. He thought he’d spiced things up with just the right blend of new with the old to remain on top.
But he lost. It wasn’t on the football field, where the former University of Minnesota running back had overcome two ACL injuries. It was the “Running Backs Top Chef Cook Off” held annually by Gophers running backs coach Kenni Burns.
I rigged it, Burns said with a laugh. He couldn’t go out three years in a row as a winner.
But the qualities that allowed Smith to overcome adversity in football are the same ones that make him a success grilling ribs. He adapts and doesn’t settle. He’s always looking for an edge that will take his game to the next level.
I’m resilient, Smith said from his home in Mundy’s Mill, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. Anytime you get injured and have to bounce back, it’s tough. The unknown variables. Will I play football again?
I can’t let the circumstance keep me down. That helped me grow into the young man I am now.
Smith has no illusion of beating out Christian McCaffrey as Carolina’s starting running back. He understands that McCaffrey, who last season became the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season, is special.