SPARTANBURG The one-handed catches, the ball spins, the routes run with the intensity of an undrafted rookie trying to make the team – if Steve Smith is slowing down as he enters his 13th season, he has an odd way of showing it.
“If I lost a step, that’s good, that’s great. It may happen, it may not,” Smith said. “But what I’m doing at 34, there are GMs hoping and praying they can draft a guy that can do what I’m doing.”
And with that, the longest-tenured player on the Panthers roster smiled.
Smith is in a good place these days. He’s healthy, feels good and is coming off back-to-back, 1,100-yard receiving seasons.
But he’s not content.
“You’re either comfortable, which leads to laziness, or you’re uncomfortable, which leads you to work hard each and every day, where you work as if it’s your first day vs. your last day,” Smith said Monday before practice. “The guys that get comfortable, those are the guys that leave.”
Smith, who holds all the Panthers’ major receiving yards, is the third-oldest active wideout in the league, behind Plaxico Burress (who will turn 36 next week) and Reggie Wayne (35 in November). Smith, who was 34 in May, is three weeks older than Santana Moss.
Smith chalks up his longevity to good genes, clean eating and an offseason regimen with his Charlotte-based personal trainer Jed Hartigan.
Smith changed his diet seven years ago after reading an article about the benefits of organic foods. He often leaves Wofford’s campus at lunchtime to drive to the Whole Foods in Greenville to eat organic.
“I read that article, went home after training camp, cleaned out the whole pantry and went organic,” he said. “And ever since then, it’s easier to keep my weight down. I just feel a difference. So I try to keep on that regimen.”
Smith said he and his wife, Angie, get their milk delivered from a local farm.
“We have actually an old-fashioned milk man who comes every Thursday,” Smith said. “It’s just different stuff – cleaner, no pesticides.”
Smith hasn’t missed a game the past two seasons. He caught a team-leading 73 passes for 1,174 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, while becoming the 27th receiver in NFL history to reach 11,000 receiving yards.
Brandon LaFell, the Panthers’ No. 2 receiver, said Smith’s sustained success is not by accident.
“Everyone always asks me about Smitty and how he practices, and I say the same thing. If you take all the numbers off everyone on the field and go out and watch practice, you’ll still know where (No.) 89 is. Because he’s out there running around, jumping over guys, running past guys,” LaFell said. “He’s still making every play like it’s 2003.”
Coach Ron Rivera has started giving Smith occasional practices off to save him from himself. Smith goes through every drill at full speed, and Rivera would prefer he save some energy for games.
Smith said his work ethic stems in part from not wanting to sound like a hypocrite when he talks to his three children.
“How can I sit at home and say, ‘Work hard,’ if I’m sitting on my butt playing video games and they never see me doing anything?” he said.
In addition to his kids, Smith’s example is not lost on his teammates, either.
“The guy will go out there and run by everybody and then he’ll make a one-handed catch and jump over a guy. He just wows you,” LaFell said.
“And the days you go out there and you’re tired, your body is banged up, heck I’m 26, the guy is like 30-something, I’m thinking I’m going to have me an off-day. Then I go out there and see Smitty competing and just makes me feel like I got to go harder.”
Smith still knows how to entertain. After making a catch during the Panthers’ first practice in front of a crowd of 10,000 at Gibbs Stadium, he got up and spun the ball at the feet of the defender.
That move could cost the Panthers 15 yards this season, when officials look to crack down on taunting. They have been told to penalize players who spin the ball at or in the vicinity of opponents.
“We’re working it out,” said Smith, adding he might have to alter his spin.
Smith, who was suspended for two games in 2008 for punching teammate Ken Lucas at camp, said he won’t change the way he approaches the game. Whenever he retires, he is certain of at least one part of his legacy.
“What are they going to say? A lot of people can say, ‘Well, he did this. He punched a guy. He did that. He’s this, he’s that,’ ” Smith said. “But one thing you’ll never say about me is I didn’t work. I’m going to work.”
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less