Former Hardaway quarterback and current Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Marcus Smith returned to his alma mater on Thursday to share a message with the school's current athletes.
He spoke to them about academic struggles in high school nearly derailing his career, a position switch in college making him want to quit and even the current difficulties of breaking into the starting lineup in the NFL.
Through all of that, he said, he's become a stronger, more faithful and more determined person and athlete.
"I just wanted to come back to them and let them know anything is possible," he said. "I came from the same place they come from. Columbus is a place where you can get trapped into doing things that can lead you away. I'm just a little bit older than them, so me coming back may be an impact to somebody."
Smith shared stories of failing a class in high school and of scoring too low on the SAT to make it into his first college choice, the University of Florida. He told of how, when he was given a chance at Louisville, he was asked to change positions from quarterback to defensive end, and how the move nearly made him quit.
His determination resulted in 14.5 sacks as a senior and a first-round draft selection by the Eagles. Now, he said, he's facing the same kinds of struggles, but earning playing time has not come easy. He played in only eight games as a rookie and recorded no tackles. This past season, he played in 15 games and had seven tackles, incluyding 1.5 sacks.
But the examples he had in high school have helped prepare him to face them head on.
"It prepared me for the NFL," he said. "Sometimes things don't go the way you want them to. It's hard times in college and high school that really prepared me for what I'm going through now."
Smith said his direction came from people like his parents and his coaches when he was in high school
"My coaches, my dad, Coach (Dell) McGee, Coach (Kendall) Mills, Coach (Michael) Woolridge -- people who didn't let me go by the wayside even though I messed up," he said. "Those people kept me well-rounded."
He also wanted to encourage members of the football team and other programs at the school that were struggling to never give in to negativity.
"Hardaway has always been an underdog," he said. "There's nothing wrong with that. Just stay true to what you believe in and believe in your brothers and your sisters next to you. Stay hungry, think positive, don't let nobody tell you you're not good."
Smith graduated from Hardaway in 2010 and was considered a three-star recruit by rivals.com. As a defensive end in college, he recorded 24 career sacks, a pair of interceptions and over 30 tackles for loss.
David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter@leprepsports