Tyvis Smith hasn’t carried the ball in a football game in more than a year.
But if you thought the former Davenport Central star has just been sitting around getting fat since then, you’d be wrong. If you thought he was horribly out of shape, you’d be very mistaken. And if you thought his career in football was at an end … well, you haven’t talked to Tyvis lately.
"I love the game of football," Smith said. "If I get the chance to play it anywhere, I’m going to play it."
It could be in the top football league in the world or it might be in an indoor league playing for his hometown team. Either way, Smith isn’t done.
Naturally, he would love for his next game to be in the National Football League.
"I talked to a lot of NFL teams, and I’m still in talks with them to this day," Smith said. "That dream’s not gone. I’m just thankful for that. My agent’s doing his job and talking to agents and talking to other people just to get me in the door. All I need is a field to show them. Once you put the pads on me, I’m a different person."
In the meantime, Smith tried out about a month ago for the Quad-City Steamwheelers, who will begin play in Champions Indoor Football next spring. He was not among the dozen or so players signed to contracts, but it wasn’t because head coach Cory Ross wasn’t impressed with the 6-foot-3, 225-pound running back.
"We kind of didn’t want to mess anything up (with the NFL) for him," said Ross, who had a brief career as a back in the NFL himself. "As far as him coming to camp with us, I would like to think he will."
Under different circumstances, Smith might already have gotten his NFL shot. He grabbed the attention of scouts when he rushed for 1,079 yards as a junior at Northern Iowa, including 714 in the last five games of the season. He was primed for a big senior season in 2016, then suffered a groin injury that severely hampered him. He didn’t even carry the ball in the last two games.
"So I just sort of dropped off the radar a little bit," Smith said. "And this was a big draft class for running backs so I just got lost in the bunch. Teams know about me. Teams know what I can and cannot do. I’m not too worried about that. I just didn’t get that free agent or draft look because I didn’t get to finish and show what I learned from my junior to my senior year."
Smith didn’t even get a free agent shot.
"I wasn’t surprised because this was probably the strongest running back crop in 15 years," said Ed Bailey, Smith’s Chicago-based agent. "The other thing is that teams are going away from the big back model."
Smith knows that more and more NFL teams are looking to use backs as receivers. One of the best examples is Arizona Cardinals star David Johnson, who Smith backed up his first few years at UNI and who has been a mentor to him.
Smith said he talked to Johnson a few days before his Steamwheelers tryout and gets frequent pep talks from his old pal.
"He knows I can play in that league, and hearing it from David Johnson means a lot," Smith said.
There are other things for Smith to work on. Ross would like to see him modify his running style to get a little more body lean.
"He’s just got to stay low," Ross said. "He runs really high with a really high pad level, and that’s probably what’s been holding him back because he runs really well. His lateral isn’t too well, but he’s a downhill, north-and-south runner so if (an NFL team) needs something like that, he could be a good back."
More than anything, Smith is just trying to stay in shape for the NFL call that Bailey thinks could still come.
Smith is working during the day in Pro Service commercial sales at Lowes and training in the evening at Anytime Fitness and YMCA. He spends time at Brady Street Stadium doing footwork drills, trying to maintain his speed and agility.
"Right now I’m just waiting for the phone to ring, and once it rings, I’m up for it and ready to go," he said.
If the call doesn’t come, he probably will go to camp with the Steamwheelers and see if he can improve his stock and catch the attention of an NFL team there.
"This is very important," he said following his tryout with the Steamwheelers. "I just want to keep playing football and every aspect of the game, and I feel like this right here is going to help me pursue that just because I get more film, I get to keep playing around the ball and get to help my receiving game as well."
Bailey said he is convinced his client has the talent to play in the NFL.
"It’s just a matter of finding the right system, right time, right situation," he said.