Just a few months ago, former Louisiana Tech quarterback J’Mar Smith was tossing passes to wide receivers at Shreveport’s Huntington High School, while working at the Mayfield Chiropractor Clinic as a rehab therapist for treatment.
Undrafted by the NFL, Smith was trying to keep alive his dream of an extended life as a professional quarterback. Then, he got the draft call from former Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz.
Smith had finished his collegiate eligibility at Tech about the same time Holtz was released as Tech’s coach. Holtz landed in the USFL as the coach of the Birmingham Stallions.
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“When Coach Holtz got hired, I had a slight feeling I might get a call,” Smith said. “I just wanted a chance to play ball. The draft day came for the USFL, I saw coach’s personal number call me and I felt good. I knew I could get to work and do what I love to do – play football.”
Smith and Holtz combined for a bevy of wins at Tech and they have taken the upstart USFL by storm. The Stallions are 9-1 heading into the inaugural USFL championship game against the Philadelphia Stars (6-4) on Sunday (6:30 p.m. CT, FOX) at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
“Being here with coach has been comfortable,” Smith said. “We know each other, and he knows how to coach me. Nothing less.”
Smith has passed for 1,763 yards and 11 touchdowns against six interceptions for the Stallions. His work earned him the league’s inaugural Player of the Week recognition which came with a pair of Nike Air Force 1s.
“It was always a 1-0 mindset – just trying to do whatever I can to put the team, the offense, in the best situation to put points on the board,” Smith said. “I can’t take all the credit because of my great teammates. But it did feel good to win the first one – especially receiving the customized shoes.”
Smith is awaiting his chance to play in the NFL and sees several differences between his league and the NFL.
“It’s a lot more special teams plays being made,” he said of the USFL. “The play clock and flow of the game seems faster, even though I haven’t had any pro burn. Just seems like some things are different.”
As a senior at La Tech in 2019, the Meridian, Mississippi, native directed a 10-3 campaign and Independence Bowl win over Miami. He was 25-13 in his career as a starter and finished his career ranked in the top four in program history in completions (759), passing yards (9,523) and passing touchdowns (51).
Despite those marks, he wasn’t always touted as a top quarterback by Bulldogs fans. He let the negativity roll off his back and dodged the opportunity to say his success in Birmingham is validation.
“Just want to win! That’s always been my mindset,” he said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to play football and show I can play QB.”
When the USFL called, Smith was ready to perform after practicing with Huntington receivers like Zyion Claville and Kendrick Rucker, who signed with La Tech in February.
“Daily grind my man – constantly putting the hard hat on and just working. Always staying ready, was throwing with a Huntington WR everyday to make sure I was always in fluid motion,” Smith said. “I got to keep working and getting better.”
Although the future of the USFL and the football career for players like Smith is unclear, he’s honed in on bringing home a championship to his adopted city.
“It’s another game for us to win. Can’t let the outside factors distract us from the task – win,” Smith said. “That’s the plan and mindset, 1-0! We love the venue and opportunity to change scenery, but we’re laser focused on our job to execute.”
And there’s always a chance that he can come back to Shreveport and work with the Mayfield family as a therapist.
“It’s a great opportunity and opened my mind to a new field that I am now interested in,” Smith said. “Also, coaching is there for me to always be around the game I love.”
Jimmy Watson covers Shreveport-Bossier area sports. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JimmyWatson6.