Alex Smith shares injury, recovery with Alabama Football originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
As Alabama prepares for the 2021 college football season, head coach Nick Saban brought in another guest speaker to share their perspective with the team.
This time around, it was former Washington quarterback Alex Smith, who talked about his recovery from a life-threatening leg injury back in 2018. And not just the physical challenges of coming back from an injury like that, but the mental journey he went on realizing what was holding him back throughout his entire career.
"What got me through that experience and ultimately back out onto the field were a lot of the lessons I learned the hard way in my career," Smith said. "Lessons about dealing with expectations, the pressure to perform, but dealing with anxiety and self-doubt, the stuff that every athlete deals with whether they admit it or not.
"I'm proud that I made it back onto the field, but I'm really more proud of what got me there. Not the physical journey, but the mental one. You know, I learned that so much of the anxiety that holds us back in life, it's self-inflicted. We make it worse on ourselves."
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Smith went on to credit a former teammate of his while he was with the 49ers for giving him the perspective he needed to fight through the fear of returning to the field.
"There was this linebacker who was like a backup linebacker, core special teamer, one of these crazy guys," Smith said. His name was Blake Costanzo and before games, he would run around the locker room and he would get in everybody's face. He would get everybody's face like, 'Are you going to live today? I'm going to live today. Are you?'
"At first, it kind of caught me off guard, he's this crazy man. But then you would go watch him and he was fearless out there, fearless. He made plays. He wasn't perfect, of course not. I don't even think he knows it to this day the effect he had on me. Here's a guy, he's not trying to hide away from the challenge. This is hard, football is hard, and he was taking it head-on."
Costanzo was Smith's teammate for one season but made a lasting impact on the 14-year NFL veteran. Now, Smith is taking that same message and relaying it to young players on the best college football program in the country.
"I'm going to take that [challenge] on. I'm not living like that anymore," Smith said. "I'm not dragging the last play with me, I'm not doing any of that other stuff. For me, it was about accepting that I was in a bad place. I was, I had all this anxiety. I was trying to be perfect, trying to please everybody and then, you know, flipping it. This is what makes it hard, all that stuff. 'I'm not happy when I'm out on the depth chart,' you know, whatever all that stuff is, that's always going to be out there. And again, how does it affect you, what you choose to do with it? Locking it in on what you need to do and living."
Smith, who retired from pro football following a 2020 season where he helped lead Washington to the playoffs, won the league's Comeback Player of the Year award and the Pro Football Writers Association's Halas Award for overcoming adversity.
The Jaguars had interest in Smith for the 2021 season and he even visited their facilities during the offseason, but he opted against coming back for one more year. He finished his career with over 35,000 passing yards, 199 touchdown passes and 99 wins as a starting quarterback.