Mother's Love Carries Smith Through Life

Antone Smith plugs a code into his phone and unlocks it, taps the messages button and flashes a toothy smile as he scrolls through text message upon text message.

They all start pretty much the same — "Good morning boo" — and always follow with a few words of love and inspiration. On the other end of those messages is Classie Smith, Antone Smith's mother, and she never misses a morning text to her son.

On the way home from the Falcons' facility in Flowery Branch after a long day of game preparation, it's not unusual for Antone to get on the phone with his mother and share the news of the day.

Riding home after practice during Week 4 while chatting on the phone, Classie was so overcome with love for her son that she had to share a secret about his life that she had always kept from him.

"You know how I always say, 'You're my blessing'? I always check on you and say, 'I love you,' text you every morning?" Classie said to her son.

"Why do you say that?" Antone replied.

"It's because you weren't supposed to be here," Classie said.

The news was difficult to comprehend, but she went on to explain it to her beloved son.

When he was delivered, Antone was born with a fever and the doctors said they couldn't break it. They tried everything and it wouldn't budge. The doctor delivered the news to Classie that Antone wasn't expected to make it past a few days. He was probably going to die.

But just like he keeps doing throughout his football career, Antone defied the odds. The fever broke. The doctors were stunned. Classie would take home a perfectly healthy boy she would then refer to as her "miracle baby."

The story opened up a world of understanding for Antone. Classie would always get a little impatient with him when she would call or text and he wouldn't respond right away. Antone would assure her that he was a grown man and could take care of himself, but now knowing the story behind the very start of his journey, all the worrying from his mother began to make sense.

"My mom would always check on me. If I don't answer my phone, if I'm at home and I don't answer my phone, she'll continue to call, continue to call, continue to call, until I answer," Antone said, with a sense of appreciation for the worried messages from mom. "And now, when she told me that story, it was like that's why she does that, not just because she's so scared."

It's no doubt that with his success in 2014, Antone's biggest fan is Classie. She's been there for him every step of the way. A single mother raising five children, Classie did whatever she had to in order to provide for her family.

Her children didn't always get what they wanted right away, but if they worked hard enough for it, Classie would reward them for applying themselves.

That's a quality that has been deeply instilled in Antone, whose NFL journey is more common in the league than the paths of some of the superstars he shares a locker room with.

Antone came out of Florida State an undersized running back who showed tremendous capability with the Seminoles. Projected to be a fifth-to-seventh rounder, the NFL Draft came and went in 2009 without his name being called despite running a 4.33 at the NFL Combine.

RB Antone Smith has shown his ability to make explosive plays and get in the endzone. Check out these photos from Smith's five touchdowns so far this season.

"It surprised me, but at the same time, you've got a lot of teams that get a lot of hype behind them, and at Florida State, we weren't winning like we were supposed to be," Antone said. "We had this celebrated group of guys on our team that everybody was talking about. We kind of got under the radar, a lot of the guys. It was hard for me. It was really hard. I didn't get drafted."

Like so many who strive to make a living in the NFL as undrafted players, Antone was in for a tumultuous journey. He started in Detroit as a tryout player and was eventually signed, but he didn't even make it to training camp before he was cut.

His next stop was Minnesota, where he lasted less than a month. Then on to Houston.

There, he lasted less than a week.

It entered his mind that football might not be for him. He entertained the idea of giving up. And during that thought process, there was Classie.

"She always said, 'Keep your head up, no matter what. You've got people out here talking about you aren't going to make it, you aren't going to do this, but keep your head up, keep grinding,' " Antone said. "She always knows I work hard, no matter the situation I'm in."

The doubts went away when the Falcons signed Antone to a practice squad deal in October of 2009 and was given a future contract at the end of the season.

Slowly, with the support of his mother and the belief that she instilled in him, he began to rise in the ranks in Atlanta, earning a 53-man spot, becoming a special teams star and then co-captain, and presently, breaking out as an offensive weapon.

"She knows what I can do," Antone said. "She knows my speed and my talent and what I can do in a football game. My mom is actually more scared. She's more scared for me than actually (concerned about) the success I'm having. She doesn't want me to get hurt and get all beat up."

He tells her in reply, "That's why I don't let them touch me."

Antone has the stats to prove it with four total touchdowns in 2014, the shortest of which was the 38-yarder in a game before he found out just how special he was.

The future is uncertain for Antone as he continues through the final year of his contract. At 29 years old, he's getting to the age where most running backs start a sharp decline, but he's shown that he may just be getting started.

With limited mileage on his body, Antone said he could play at least four or five more years, and with team owner and chairman Arthur Blank recently telling that he wants Antone in Atlanta for a long time, maybe the future isn't so uncertain after all.

Either way, nothing is going to change the way he prepares for work every day. If you're wondering if his newfound success might alter him at all, Antone said he hasn't even seen the highlights of his plays. He doesn't watch SportsCenter and he never watches sports at home — a product of his undrafted route teaching him that there's more to life.

And the belief that got him to this point — in a twisting, turning way from the 2009 NFL Draft — and will carry him in the future is a product of a woman who rises every morning before the sun, picks up the phone and types in "Good morning boo" to her miracle baby.

"My mom inspires me every day," Antone said. "She inspires me so much. That's why I go out there and do my best, no matter what it is — special teams, offense. I just want to do my best because I wasn't supposed to be here."

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