Football: 'Fat Rabbit' continues Super Bowl success of recent UNH alumni
For the second straight NFL season, a Wildcat wears a ring. On Sunday, backup Seattle Seahawks center and UNH alumnus Jared Smith earned a championship ring when the Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
It is the second year in a row that a Wildcat has been a part of a Super Bowl winning team, former UNH cornerback Corey Graham doing so last season with the Baltimore Ravens.
It took Graham six NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears and the Ravens to be a part of a championship team. Smith is grateful it only took him one.
"I'm very fortunate to be a part of this," Smith said. "I think it was only 7 percent of people win Super Bowls, and to win it on my first year, it's definitely something gained."
Smith, originally from Greencastle, Pa., was the third of four players picked in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft by Seattle, No. 241 overall. He'd been courted by other teams as a defensive end. At UNH, he played four years as a defensive tackle, making 40 tackles in 2012, 43 in 2011 and 38 in 2010. He was redshirted in 2008 and in 2009 made eight tackles in six games.
Seattle had different plans for him, though. They saw his play on the line and figured he might have the quick feet required to protect 25-year-old Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson. Smith was called for a workout with the Seahawks before the draft. They liked what they saw, and they took him.
Smith is the second successful convert to the offensive line by Seahawks Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line coach Tom Cable, who flipped NC State draft pick J.R. Freezy a year before. Freezy, also a former defensive lineman, ended up starting in the first two games of the 2013 season, as well as two playoff games this season.
After spending time on the practice squad, Smith was put on the active roster and became backup to three-time pro bowler Max Unger. Smith has been on injured reserve since he broke his leg in Week 5, but next season he expects to be back as second-team center.
Smith has spent plenty of time learning with Unger, who taught him a lot about patience on the line.
"Patience is the biggest [lesson]," Smith said. "Compared to D-line where I was playing before, you know, [where] everything was on attacking, but here, playing on the [offensive] line, it's not an attacking game. It's more of patience and getting the read, being cool- patience."
Patience must come off the field, too, as Smith acknowledged he won't see much playing time while Unger is on the field.
"He's a three-time pro bowler, so it's going to be hard to start over someone like that," Smith said. "That's all I can do, is just learn."
The former defensive lineman doesn't feel funny about not being a part of the Seahawk defense, hailed by many as one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. In fact, he loves his new position, and going against his teammates on that side of the ball in practice every week has helped him greatly with adapting to his new position at the professional level.
"I really love what I'm doing," Smith said. "I mean, there are some times where parts of me [misses] back in college, sacking people and stuff, but the big thing about me playing center now is I'm playing against the best defense in the league, and I practice with them every day. I'm going against guys that are considered the very best ... you really learn quick, especially if you're going against guys like Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, all those other guys."
Smith has kept plenty of contact with Graham since being drafted. Graham, now a seven-year NFL veteran, has plenty of advice to offer Smith.
"[Graham has] been mentoring me a lot," Smith said. "Every single question I have, I always call him up and I'll ask him and he guides me through it ... Things that I should expect, things I should be careful for, just things that will help me out. Things that he wishes he would have done throughout his whole rookie career, and just simple stuff like that."
Smith earned the nickname "Fat Rabbit" during his time at UNH, and the name has stuck with him in Seattle. The Seattle Times did a fan poll on Sept. 4 to determine which Seahawk nickname was the best. "Fat Rabbit" made fourth place.
"A lot of fans liked that, I guess," Smith said.
The former Wildcat intends to make Fat Rabbit a clothing brand. He's been making Fat Rabbit t-shirts since he was at UNH. He said he must have pumped out more than 700 by now.
"It's more something that I'm just trying to start," Smith said. "I'm just giving away a lot of them and trying to create an actual consumer need for them, so until that happens I'll keep doing that."
Smith has had plenty of contact with his former teammates, as well. He said he heard from them every other week during the NFL season. He's kept tabs on the Wildcats and is proud of his former team for winning three playoff games this season, calling them and congratulating them on their year.
"You really don't forget about that stuff," Smith said of his college years. "I definitely still consider myself a UNH Wildcat, but you just don't really forget that stuff."
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