When Emmitt Smith became a professional football player, his father told him to keep everything he wore, that you never know what your role in history might be.
“That made me think from a different perspective,” Smith said. “He felt I could be something special. I didn’t know how special.”
Smith’s father wasn’t alone. In 1986, USA TODAY named Emmitt Smith its high school football Offensive Player of the Year. One Pro Football Hall of Fame career and 18,355 yards later, Smith proved his dad and us prescient. As we choose our 30th anniversary American Family Insurance ALL-USA football team, Smith certainly belongs as a running back, but he also stands out for his off-the-field achievements.
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Smith used a 15-year NFL career to bankroll a career in business. One company, EJ Smith Construction, specializes in commercial construction. Another, E Smith Legacy, is a commercial real estate company. According to celebnetworth.org, his various holdings are worth $45 million.
Some of the former ALL-USA players who have enjoyed post-football success never made it to the NFL.
Cory Booker was a first-team All-USA defensive back at Northern Valley Regional (Old Tappan, N.J.) in 1986. Now a two-time mayor of Newark with senatorial aspirations, Booker joked at a recent commencement speech at Stanford that the school “let me in because of my 4.0 and 1,600. And I said it was 4.0 yards per carry and 1,600 receiving yards my senior year in high school.”
Rick Meyer of Salinas, Calif., was on the 1984 All-USA team as an offensive lineman and was an all-Pac-10 choice at UCLA, but today he’s saving lives as a physician in Nashville. Joe Mauer, 2000 Offensive Player of the Year as a quarterback at Cretin-Derham Hall (St. Paul), never played a down of college football, but he’s a five-time All-Star catcher for the Minnesota Twins.
MORE: Best of the best from 30 years of ALL-USA football teams
Others, after enjoying a little college and pro success, are giving back, at different levels, to the sport.
Former NFL and Stanford quarterback John Paye, the 1982 Offensive Player of the Year, coaches quarterbacks (and varsity girls basketball) at his alma mater, Menlo School (Atherton, Calif.). Dean Dingman, an 1986 All-USA offensive lineman, is the assistant director of football operations at LSU. David Rocker, who was a 1986 All-USA defensive lineman, was recently named head coach at Point University (Ga.). Mark Carrier, a 1985 All-USA defensive back, is coaching the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive backs, and Alonzo Highsmith, a 1982 All-USA defensive end, is a senior personnel director with the Green Bay Packers.
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PHOTOS: ALL-USA quarterbacks through the years
There are a lot of ways to measure success, but Smith found the same competitiveness that helped him in sports fuels his drive today.
“Landing a contract and servicing a client is like scoring a touchdown,” Smith said. “I have always been passionate about business.”
Of the former ALL-USA football players who have had notable success off the field, many didn’t wait until their pro football dreams ended to decide what they want to do.
“Many times as athletes, we get caught up in this notion that we’re going to do this sport forever,” Smith said. “If a young player reaches out to me, like one did the other day, I would say, ‘Now, is the time to start thinking about your transition. You need to start thinking about life after the game. You quit playing football in your 20s or 30s, if you’re really lucky. You have a long life ahead of you and you need to keep yourself motivated.’”
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter @jimhalley.