There is no athlete who doesn’t undergo adversity at some point in their life. Whether that is getting cut from a team, not getting recruited to their dream school, overcoming an injury, or anything else, professional athletes are used to overcoming challenges. However, the challenges that Dallas Cowboys first-rounder Tyler Smith had to face as a teenager were particularly unique and difficult.
During the 2022 NFL Draft, we found out that the Cowboys’ new rookie overcame an incredibly rare condition called Blount’s disease. The condition affects less than 1% of the population and affects the growth plates around a person’s knees. ESPN’s Todd Archer recently spoke to Smith, his mom, and his doctor about the grueling situation and gave readers an inside look at what the first-rounder had to go through just to be able to have a chance to play football again, let alone be drafted in the first round by the Cowboys.
The North Crowley, Texas, native was diagnosed with the disease at 16 years old when he was already 6-5 and 300 pounds. He described the situation by saying “there are not much more things as painful in life.” That’s coming from a kid who gets pushed and tackled by 300+ pound men on a regular basis.
Coaches noticed he had a bow leg despite his intense strength. Smith’s high school coach remembered that the kid could reverse curl 275 pounds in the power clean as a freshman despite improper technique due to his condition. Smith and his mom, Patricia, decided that surgery was the only way to improve his quality of life and allow him to play football again.
"Three days after the final game of his junior year, he had an osteotomy, which included having an external fixator bolted to his lower left leg to stabilize the bones that were broken and realigned. Smith had to wear the fixator for four months. After surgery, he was given a wheelchair. — Todd Archer"
But, Smith didn’t want the wheelchair. He was determined to have a normal high school experience despite an incredibly rare thing happening to him. The Cowboys rookie compared the bars on his legs to what former Washington Commanders quarterback Alex Smith had on his leg after his gruesome round of surgeries.
Cowboys’ Tyler Smith explains his painful battle with Blount’s disease in a recent ESPN article
Coaches said he never missed a practice up until his surgery. After his procedure, Smith would wake up at 6 am before school for physical therapy so that he could be back to full training the summer before his senior year of football.
The surgery he underwent required doctors to essentially break his legs and put them in proper alignment so that they could heal properly. But, as Smith has admitted to the press in the past, he used his humor and positive attitude to get through the challenging time. He still takes it all in stride:
"“I got some scars from where the bolts were. It’s not too bad. I still look sexy, so it’s all good… That definitely added to the chip on my shoulder. I’m not going to lie. When it comes to iron man football, there’s nothing I’m not willing to do. Whether it’s jammed fingers, broken thumbs, strains, it don’t matter because things like that pale in comparison.”"
Because of his surgery, it was difficult for Smith to get offers from collegiate football programs. His coaches tried to explain that he was a Power 5 talent, but schools wouldn’t budge. However, an opportunity in the American Athletic Conference with Tulsa was all he needed. Despite getting little recruitment excitement out of college, his hard work led him to a spot on the Cowboys.
Now, the first-rounder knows it makes him a unique person who has battled adversity plenty in his life. The 21-year-old hopes to be a role model for other kids who have to go through anything similar. Hard work and persistence truly can pay off.