It's not often fans of a football team get excited about undrafted players.
Many come and many go, but few can make the most of their opportunity.
One reason Antone Smith was familiar to Falcons fans when he joined the team in 2009 and signed to the practice squad was because they may had heard of him before. Smith's college pursuits were well followed because he was a Parade All-American and a national player of the year. He chose Florida State and had a good, but not great career.
A few years into a career that saw him land on four teams in almost as many months to begin his first NFL season, Smith's time in the league has been entirely with the Falcons. Even though his is a story to feel great about, he wasn't even the biggest undrafted player story in camp. That belonged to the rookie, Darrin Walls (more on him some other time soon), who made the final 53 after being undrafted out of Notre Dame.
It's the relative obscurity that can happen on a football team that leads Smith to call himself a "one-foot-in, one-foot-out" player and status such as this can lead to long nights and anxious moments.
"There's always nerves," Smith said of cut-down time. "I'm a guy that's one-foot-in, one-foot-out. I'm always nervous. I can go out there and control what I can control."
What he controlled heading into Thursday night's game was his own destiny. As a one foot in, one foot out player, everything you do in the preseason can go for or against you. A Week 2 fumble on a kick return had muddied his performance until the final game of decision season.
Smith felt the fumble being on special teams wouldn't kill his chances totally since he's capable of doing a lot of things on special teams and can impact a game on the offensive side of the ball as well. He realized ultimately the decision was not his to make.
"It's two different parts of the game and I don't know how much of a part that will play," Smith said. "The decision will not be made by me, it'll be made by the guys upstairs. I'm hoping I'll be here. If I'm not here, I'lll be somewhere else."
His 158 all-purpose yards helped his cause considerably last Thursday. After Saturday's final decisions were made, Smith — a guy that said he could only try to sleep good that night — will rest easy at least for a moment.
But before Saturday came, he felt relieved to know he did all he could to seize his moment and would find peace in that.
"It feels pretty good," he said. "All I'm trying to do is my job. Decisions are going to be made by the guys in the office. I'm fine just going out there and laying it on the line. That's what I did tonight and just made plays when my number was called. I'm going to try to sleep good tonight and just wake up and hope I'm still here. You never know what is going to happen."
He's now on the final 53, although with potentially three running backs ahead of him. His mark will come on special teams, a place that helped him stick, and remain active, with the club last season. His two special teams tackles last season were not taken lightly.
He need only look a few roster spots up his own depth chart to find inspiration: Jason Snelling made his way in the league from seventh-round pick and third stringer to special teams ace to enough playing time to establish himself as one of the best No. 2 running backs in the league.
It's a path Smith wouldn't mind taking and he feels he's begun it, returning for another season in Atlanta. He can relate to a guy like Walls. He was in Walls' position only a short time ago, except it took him a few tries to make the regular season roster. One foot guys are all just trying to get in where they can so they can prove they were overlooked.
"We're just trying to get our feet in," Smith said. "All these young dudes are making their way."
For the second season in a row the running back has made the team, but he always knows his time could be limited. As he, and other players like him, are trying to make their way, players are always added and taken away, as teams look for the perfect fit of 53.
Smith is the exact example of a guy working hard and thankful for each opportunity, knowing they could be limited. Undrafted players have to fight the hardest to stick around. Stories like Smith's, Walls' and 2010 undrafted rookie turned roster contributor Michael Palmer are inspirational.
"I mean, I'm not a guy that knows I'm going to be here," Smith said. "I could wake up and be somewhere else. You just never know. I could be here today and gone tomorrow."