Originally created 01/17/04

Smoker looking to impress NFL scouts at Hula Bowl



WAILUKU, Hawaii -- Jeff Smoker believes his senior season at Michigan State answered his critics. Now, he's trying to prove himself to the NFL scouts attending Saturday's Hula Bowl.

Smoker's college career was in question a year ago after missing five games for a substance-abuse suspension. But he rebounded this past season, flourishing under new coach John L. Smith's spread offense, becoming Michigan State's most prolific passer ever.

"Obviously, it was a quite difficult thing to go through," he said. "That's something no one wants to go through, but I put myself in that position and I had to work to overcome it and now I'm a better person, a happier person and a better football player."

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound quarterback threw for 3,395 yards and 21 touchdowns while leading the Spartans to an 8-5 season, including a 17-3 loss to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl.

Smoker is the Spartans' career leader in pass attempts (1,150), completions (685), passing yards (8,932), touchdown passes (61) and total yards.

"I'm not someone who gives up," he said. "I'm a fighter. I'm a competitor. That's why I like football. This was just another battle I had to fight and I wasn't going to let it get the best of me."

Smoker is on the Kai all-star team that also features Louisiana Tech quarterback Luke McCown, who is ranked sixth in career passing yards (12,666).

Detroit Lions scout Russ Bolinger said a lot of teams studied Smoker this week in workouts, but some may stay away on draft day because of his prior substance abuse.

Bolinger said he was somewhat concerned about Smoker's past, but he's impressed with his abilities and how he responded.

Smoker said he doesn't know if his off-field history will play a significant role come draft day.

"Honestly, I can't worry about that right now because it's in my past," he said. "So, all I can do now is continue to play well and show that I am a different person."