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Buccaneers’ Ryan Smith got his chance in the NFL, but he was prepared if he didn’t

The former North Carolina Central cornerback is headed to the Super Bowl in his fifth season with Tampa Bay

Ryan Smith is living his dream.

Smith, a former North Carolina Central football star, and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates are on the verge of playing in the Super Bowl.

The 27-year-old led the Buccaneers in special-teams tackles in 2019 while giving the team depth at cornerback, having 16 starts on defense over the past four seasons. So far this season, he’s only had four tackles through 15 games.

The fifth-year cornerback was selected by Tampa Bay as the 108th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. At NCCU, Smith broke school career records for solo tackles (168) and kickoff return yard average (28.1), playing in 45 games, including 42 as a starter.

The Undefeated spoke with Smith about his historically Black college and university (HBCU) experience, his clothing brand Mind Your Business and his goals for the rest of this NFL season.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How was your HBCU experience at N.C. Central?

It was pretty dope. It’s funny because when I first got there, that was my first time really being on my own without my parents and it was new to me. It took me about a couple weeks to adapt to the new environment. I’m in a new state with new people around me, so it ended up being pretty cool. I was on a partial scholarship at first and then I worked my way to earn a full scholarship. The experience was really fun. I ended up being a freshman All-American and people started to know who I was, and I started to get a little bit of love. It was kind of easy to fully adapt also because I was on the football team, so I was forced to meet new people without even realizing what I was doing, and my teammates ended up being real cool friends till this day. As the years went on, people really started to notice who I was and then I ended up pledging Kappa Alpha Psi, so then I met even more brothers. I developed good relationships with the teachers, and it was just a fun experience, like the parties and events we had. I feel like a HBCU experience is a real college experience, like the community service part of it as well, and I just had a really good time.

How did that college experience prepare you for the NFL and beyond?

I feel like when you go to an HBCU, you don’t get all the privileges you get when you go to a PWI [predominantly white institution] because you don’t have the same resources that bigger schools might have. So you are getting it out the mud when you go to an HBCU. You are doing everything on your own. You got to figure it out and it just prepares you without even realizing what you are doing for life, because when you get out to the real world, you are going to have to get it out the mud. You are going to have to figure out a way to succeed and be successful. It prepares you without you even realizing it is preparing you.

You played with your younger brother Tre at Central. How was that?

It was the same as it was when we were younger. We literally played on the same team since we were 5, 6 and 7 until the end of our college careers. I was in my freshman year of college and he was a senior in high school. He got the same offer I got, and he had a chance to go to the other schools, but he chose to come with me, so it felt the same, but it was fun to have my brother there. We really did everything together through the end of our college careers.

You’ve started a clothing business during the pandemic, Mind Your Business, in honor of a close friend. Tell us about the process of getting this business started.

Well, my boy, his name is Rodney McMillan, died in a car accident my junior year in high school and he’s a year older than me. He’s like my brother, my best friend and he’s, like, my first real friend I had in high school, like, somebody I clicked with right away. My first real friend on the football team, so we were really close. He wore No. 2. When I got to college, I had an option to wear certain numbers and I chose to wear No. 2 in honor of him. Some people started calling me Deuce, so I ran with that. I’m kind of into fashion, not like OC [out of control] where I’m just looking for certain clothes, I just think I have a good sense of taste. I see something I like or I think looks good on me, I put it on and I make it rock, so I wanted to come out with my own brand.

I’m the type of person who just stays out the way. I don’t like drama, confrontation, none of that, so I always say, ‘mind your business’ when somebody is in my business. I joke about it sometimes, but I’m serious about it. And I was just thinking, like, man, that would be a nice brand if I can come up with something creative that could still honor my brother, and I always wanted to add the No. 2 within whatever I made. So, I was trying to figure out a way I could incorporate the No. 2. I always throw up the peace sign, the deuce sign, like when somebody says what’s up or whatever, and I was, like, I can make that the two, like the deuce. I’ve been sitting on it for a minute, and then I came across some people who were looking for athletes to start a brand. Unfortunately, that fell through and I’m kind of starting over with that whole brand. It’s coming out soon, definitely January, February, and it’s going to be a whole new look to it and I’m excited to see how that turns out.

If you weren’t drafted in 2016, you had plans to join the U.S. Marshals Service. Why?

I majored in criminal justice when I was in school. I did get my degree and I was able to graduate before I got drafted, so if I didn’t make it to the NFL, I was going to use my major as far as pursuing my career. At the time that was the goal. But if you ask me right now if I would have still done that, I don’t know, because I like sports, I like boxing, but I did have my degree to fall back on just in case my plans didn’t work out.

What are your goals for the rest of the season and your NFL career moving forward?

The rest of the season, I plan to accomplish the Super Bowl with my teammates. That’s the only goal really at this point, just to go out there and dominate play by play, game by game and just do my part, do whatever I can do to help the team win. That’s what we play every day for. As far as my career, it’s wherever God wants. I plan on playing many more years. I still feel young, but like I said, it’s wherever God wants for me, whether it’s here or somewhere else or how much playing time I get. Whatever the case may be, I’m just doing what I got to do and controlling what I can control.

Ashton Edmunds, a senior mass media arts major from Tallahassee, Florida, is the sports editor for The CAU Panther newspaper, an intern for The Atlanta Voice News Network and also an inaugural Turner Diversity Fellow at WarnerMedia.