Leonard Smith III was among the final training camp cuts in February for the Quad-City Steamwheelers.
However, the Davenport Central grad never gave up on his dream to play professionally for the local Indoor Football League team.
The Wheelers are glad, too, after Smith's stick-to-it attitude paid off in last weekend's win at the TaxSlayer Center. The defensive back had a pair of key pass breakups to help snap a three-game losing streak.
"It's a great feeling to be back," said Smith, who re-signed April 3 to provide much-needed depth in a suddenly thinned secondary.
"It's only made me work harder. We all have to go through something to get to where we're at, and it's worked out for me."
Good thing, too, because Smith was an emergency starter in his second game with NFL veteran Keith Lewis unable to play at the last minute over the weekend.
"It was great to start in front of the home crowd," Smith said. "I was a little surprised, but we're all here for one thing, so we have to be great when you get the call."
Smith paired with incumbent Danzel McDaniel and newcomers Antonio Marshall and Thailand Pierce to help limit the league's top offense to 140 passing yards.
Overall, a revamped Q-C defense forced a pair of turnovers — its first in a month — while keeping Tucson scoreless on four possessions.
"That's what happens when you compete as one unit. Everything just fell together," Smith said. "Energy is everything. We have to have high intensity every night."
Marshall had a fumble recovery on the goal-line, Pierce added an interception and Smith nearly added a pick of his own on a key fourth-quarter pass breakup in the end zone to keep Tucson down a score.
"We were upset we didn't give him an opportunity in Green Bay," the previous game, Q-C coach Cory Ross said about Smith. "He practiced so hard. Then he jumped in there and played great. Going forward, we're very excited about what we've got."
Player of the Week: Wheelers receiver Quinton Pedroza became the first player this season to win the IFL's Offensive Player of the Week award for a second time Wednesday.
The third-year pro caught 9 passes for 171 yards and 3 touchdowns in last Saturday's 72-54 victory over Tucson. TD grabs of 45, 28 and 20 yards helped Pedroza post the most receiving yards in an IFL game since 2014.
After sparking a season-high 72 points for Q-C, the former Hawaii standout now leads the IFL in scoring (102 points) and ranks Top 5 in receptions (31), receiving yards (452) and TD catches (14).
Q-C quarterback E.J. Hilliard was among the other finalists for the honor after hitting 14-of-18 passes for 247 yards and accounting for 7 scores (2 rushing).
The Special Teams Player of the Week also came out of last weekend's game at the TaxSlayer Center, with Tucson kick returner Dee Maggitt Jr. rewarded for 256 kick return yards including a touchdown.
Maggitt also was a Defensive Player of the Week earlier this season. Last weekend's top defender honor went to Arizona defensive back Dillion Winfrey.
Unsung hero: While Q-C's secondary rightly received plenty of credit for making big plays last weekend, McDaniel pointed to another catalyst for an improved Wheelers defense.
"We really communicated, and it started with La'Kel Bass, our linebacker," McDaniel said. "He had us on point. He was the first one in and the last one out of film study. He really led us all week."
Bass, who made 13 tackles in the game, was a finalist for IFL honors Wednesday.
The next challenge for Bass and the Wheelers (3-4) is Sunday at Bismarck (1-6), which won its first game at Cedar Rapids last Saturday, 40-25.
"We're excited, but at the same time, we feel like we could have done even more. Championship teams think that way. That's just always been my mindset," said McDaniel, who dropped to second this week in IFL tackles with 64 on the season.
"We put in the wrinkles and switched up our defenses, and now the sky's the limit. We're just going to keep going up from here and keep working harder and harder in practice."