SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith said the reason he’s been able to play 12 years in the NFL is because he never allowed himself to get complacent.
The 34-year-old Smith said complacency leads to laziness - and lazy is one thing he’s not.
He said he’s tried to treat every day in the NFL as if it’s his first and he has something to prove.
Smith said earlier this week of his legacy, “A lot of people can say, ‘Well, he did this. He punched a guy. He did that. He’s this, he’s that. But one thing you’ll never say about me is I didn’t work. I’m going to work.”
Smith was referring to a career that has had its share of highlights and a few moments he’d father forget.
He’s led the Panthers in yards receiving in 10 of the past 12 seasons - he missed 15 games in 2004 because of a broken leg <0x2014> and is the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.
He’s played in a Super Bowl, two NFC title games and five Pro Bowls.
But he’s also had moments where his tough, inner-city Los Angeles upbringing that fuels his fire has gotten the best of him, including two incidents where he punched a teammate <0x2014> receiver Anthony Bright in the film room meeting in 2002 and cornerback Ken Lucas during a training camp practice in 2008.
Smith has apologized in the past for both incidents and tried to put them behind him, although he knows some will never let him forgive him for his wrongdoings.
Through it all Smith said he’s never viewed himself as a lock to make the Panthers roster, which in part explains the chip on his shoulder that has been there for years.
“We go to camp with 12 receivers, sometimes 13 receivers every year,” Smith said. “In 10 years that’s 120 guys who have sat in that seat. Only a few of them have remained and I’m one of those few guys. I don’t say that to brag. I say that because I’m fortunate, that I’m lucky.
“So I’m not going to roll the dice and say ‘I’ve got it this week’ or ‘I’m not going to put in the preparation, not put in the work, not put in that mental aspect.’”
Smith said a big part of what drives him these days is the lessons he wants to teach them the value of hard work.
“How can I say work hard if I’m sitting and home playing video games and they never see me doing anything?” Smith said.
Smith who has played all 12 seasons with the Panthers, has 11,452 career yards receiving, which is 23rd in NFL history.
He remains Carolina’s No. 1 receiver and Cam Newton’s favorite weapon, coming off a season where he caught 73 passes for 1,174 yards, and still thinks he can play a few more years.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said recently Smith “still looks like he’s 25” and has said nobody works harder than Smith to maintain his high level of play.
Smith, to this day, remains cocky, intense and has a flare for the dramatic. He talks trash and isn’t afraid to do a little taunting lest anybody forget that inner fire that drives him.
Even on a hot day at training camp Smith does his signature ball spin after most receptions.
There’s a chance the league could try to clamp down on that this year, though. The NFL has installed new rules where players will be penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct if they spin the ball after the completion of a play in the vicinity of an opposing player.
“We are working that out,” Smith said with a laugh. “I have to alter it a little bit.... Some people probably are like, ‘Yes, it’s finally gone.’ I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s still here.”
Entering his 13th season, Smith still appears to have that same burst he had five or six years ago, able to use his speed and quickness to get by younger defenders. He attributes his longevity to having good genes, regular workouts with a personal trainer and his switch to an organic diet back in 2006.
It’s not unusual for Smith to leave training camp at lunchtime and drive 30 miles to find an organic grocery store.
If Father Time is catching up with Smith, he’s not willing to admit it - at least not yet.
“If I’ve lost a step, that’s good and that’s great. It may happen,” Smith said. “(But) what I’m doing at 34, there are GM’s hoping and praying they can draft a guy that can do what I’m doing.”