SALT LAKE CITY – Former Utah Utes and NFL quarterback Alex Smith spoke to an audience of fans about overcoming self-doubt and rehabilitating from a brutal life-altering injury.
Smith detailed his life story and injury recovery to an audience at Murray High School on Tuesday, March 22.
The former Utah star was the first speaker in the Voices keynote series sponsored in part by KSL TV and KSL NewsRadio. The series highlights “conversations with some of the most inspirational and influential voices.”
During his remarks, Smith discussed his time at the University of Utah and the highs/lows of his NFL career, including a tough recovery from a leg injury that he suffered in 2018.
Alex Smith at Utah
The former NFL quarterback began his conversation with KSL TV’s Debbie Worthen by stating that he didn’t believe he was anything special at football until his mid-20s.
Smith was an underrated quarterback from Helix High School in Southern California.
After high school graduation, Smith came to Salt Lake City, having accepted a scholarship to play football for the Utes.
“This was a dream of mine,” Smith said of playing college football.
During his first season with Utah, the freshman quarterback only saw playing time in a couple of games. The team finished the year with a losing record and former Utah head coach Ron McBride and his staff were let go.
Utah replaced McBride with an up-and-coming head coach from Bowling Green named Urban Meyer.
Smith started 10 games for Utah during his sophomore season in 2003. The Utes finished with a 10-2 and their first outright conference title since 1957.
Meyer and Smith looked to continue that success in the following season.
“We all had a little chip on our shoulders,” Smith said of his time at Utah.
During his junior season, Smith led the Utes to an undefeated season, another Mountain West Conference championship, and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh.
“We broke down the BCS, which was our goal,” the former quarterback highlighted.
He threw for 2,952 yards and 32 touchdowns while adding 10 more TDs on the ground. The combination of stats and records led him to a spot as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Alex Smith in the NFL
Smith completed his undergraduate degree early and decided to pursue professional football following his junior season. He was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Alex Smith said that “a lot of anxiety” and “weight” came with being the top pick in the. “I thought I had to be perfect,” Smith said of his first few seasons in the league.
Smith said he was experiencing self-doubt and negativity early in his career.
The former signal-caller said that it took him “several years” to adjust to the pressure that was thrust upon him when he entered the NFL.
“I thought I was the only one going through it,” Smith said of his mindset. He soon learned that “we all deal with it in life.”
Smith played for the Niners for the first eight years of his NFL career. During his time with San Francisco, Smith saw ups and downs. One of the highlights was helping the Niners reach Super Bowl XLVII despite being sidelined.
He said that NFL Sundays were “anxious” times early in his career. Later in his playing days, Sundays became “something special.”
After the 2012 season, he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith saw much success during his time in Kansas City.
After five standout seasons with the Chiefs, he was traded to Washington.
In 2018, his first season with Washington, Smith passed for 2,180 yards with a 62.5 completion percentage. He threw 10 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in 10 games before going out with a brutal injury.
Alex Smith’s 2018 Injury
Smith suffered a broken fibula and tibia on a routine play during a game against the Houston Texans on November 18, 2018. Doctors determined immediate surgery was required.
“I still remember it vividly. It seemed harmless. I had a funny feeling in my leg.” Smith recalled his thoughts immediately after the play where he was tackled by J.J. Watt.
The quarterback knew his leg was broken but thought it wasn’t anything major.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’ll be back in time for spring ball,” Smith added.
Days after the initial surgery, Smith developed a fever and his leg became infected with flesh-eating bacteria. Weeks later, saving Smith’s life and amputation of the leg were the topics of conversation amongst his doctors and family.
“How did we get here?” Smith said of his situation.
Smith’s injury was so severe that it was considered a sports-related injury.
The recovery was long and difficult and put Smith in a “dark, dark place mentally.”
“I was just thinking about being a functional person,” he said of the uphill battle of rehab and physical therapy.
However, through the support of his family and medical experts, Smith battled his way to recovery.
“Incredibly grateful,” Smith thanked those around him for their support.
In total, the QB experienced 17 surgeries.
Alex Smith’s 2020 Comeback
Prior to the start of the 2020 season, Smith was cleared by doctors and earned a spot on Washington’s 53-man roster.
Midway through the season, he became Washington’s starting quarterback once again.
He helped led Washington to the NFL Playoffs and posted a 5-1 record in the games he started.
The former Utah great was unable to play in Washington’s Wild Card loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after he suffered an injury late in the regular season.