PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - “So how was Baltimore, brother?”
Pascagoula head coach Lewis Sims embraces his former player, Jaylen Smith, as if no time has passed since their last visit.
“Every time he sees me, it’s a big hug," Smith told WLOX. "It’s always genuine. That’s my guy.”
“Doesn’t seem like that long ago you were just hanging out with these guys,” Sims tells Smith.
“That’s what it feels like,” Smith responds.
Once a budding young athlete at Pascagoula High School, Smith now returns to War Memorial Stadium as an NFL wide receiver.
“I’d ask him almost every day, what are you gonna do to separate yourself from all the other Jaylen Smith’s in line with you?" Sims told WLOX. "He knows what that is. He’s done it before, he’ll do it again.”
“They were all very, very strict on me because they saw something I didn’t," Smith said of his time with the Panthers. "They saw a brighter future for myself, and it eventually paid off for me, helped me out tremendously.”
After Pascagoula propelled him to a four-year career at the University of Louisville, Smith got his shot at the next level, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens.
“Once the draft started flowing, you could sense that it would be more of a later round to undrafted free agent-type deal," Smith said. "But I knew once the dust settled, I was gonna be in a good spot. All in all, it was just a humbling experience to go through that, and I’m happy to be where I’m at.”
No matter what it took to get there, Sims isn’t surprised to see his former player reach these heights.
“He always had a little something extra. A little lagniappe, as we say down here, in him," Sims said with a smile. "He was always fun-loving and fun to be around, and he channeled that into loving to play the game.”
As an undrafted free agent, Smith knows that nothing at this level is guaranteed, but he also knows he’ll have a support system behind him right here on the Coast every step of the way.
“Just do what you do. Don’t change anything about yourself, don’t try to over-do it," Smith said of his approach to making the Ravens’ final roster. "Just keep doing what I do, and let the chips fall where they may.”
“I am just so proud of him, I’m proud of his mom, people who have given him support throughout his time," Sims said. "I’m just excited for his opportunity to continue to pursue those dreams.”
Smith told WLOX that ten or eleven NFL teams reached out to him after the draft, but Baltimore most intrigued him because of head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Lamar Jackson, his former teammate at Louisville.