Internship program helping former NFL players like Reggie Smith

Reggie Smith (right) works with employee Charles Wilkerson (Photo courtesy of Reggie Smith)

It's before daybreak and former NFL safety Reggie Smith has his playbook in his hands.

There are no Xs and Os, no exotic blitzes or complex coverage schemes. Instead, Smith has the plan for the several dozen employees he supervises at He is just one of many former NFL players transitioning from the playing field to the board rooms of corporate America. 

After four years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, the team that made him a third-round pick in 2008, Smith was cut by the Carolina Panthers in 2011. He was then cut by the Oakland Raiders the following season. Having been cut late in training camp in consecutive years, he realized that his playing days might be coming to a close. 

Needing about 30 credits to complete his degree at Oklahoma, Smith went back to school, taking courses online while he continued to train in case the NFL called again. It took a year for him to earn his degree in multidisciplinary studies, which he says set him up for the real world. During that time, he learned about the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) offering internships to help train athletes for life after football.  

There was an instant appeal. 

This past February, Smith decided to take part in a three-week internship program at along with several other NFL players. Then after the internship, he stayed in touch with the company and expressed his interest in coming back on a full-time basis. 

Fanatics is a juggernaut in the sports apparel world, an online retailer that is one of the leaders in the industry.  

Impressed by his enthusiasm in the internship, Fanatics hired Smith. Smith, not yet 30 years old, knew that likely meant an end to his football career. 

His title is no longer starting safety. He is an "outbound supervisor" at Fanatics at their corporate headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla. Smith is responsible for the picking, sorting, packing and shipping of the outbound functions. The role is complex and varied and he might actually put in more steps on any given day than in an NFL practice, especially during peak season like the past month. 

It is a job that in many ways was similar to his career in the NFL. 

"Being able to relate to them and knowing how to talk to them, it is a big part of this business," Smith told Yahoo Sports. 

He describes himself as "one of those guys who didn't think it would end that quick." His career was promising, with 45 appearances and seven starts in four seasons for the 49ers. But once he left San Francisco, his career hit a rocky stretch. 

In between his stints with the Panthers and Raiders he worked out every day, hoping for another shot. But he knew he had to start thinking about life after the NFL. When he was cut for the final time, the move from the field had to be made.  

"I'm just like another player going in, you think you're going to have a great, legendary Hall of Fame career. If you didn't, you'd be undershooting yourself," Smith said. "That was my goal, it didn't happen that way. I have to re-adjust my plans and try to get into something else." 

Smith went from the stress of football to the stress of shipping out thousands upon thousands of orders on "Black Friday." His life now is away from the bright lights, the cheering fans and the national attention. 

And Smith is just fine with that. 

His typical day begins at 4:10 a.m. for breakfast, then he gets changed and goes to the gym. He's at work by 6:50 a.m. where he sits down at his desk and draws up the plan for the day. He'll gather everyone together, go through the plan for the day and then about 8:45 a.m. he meets with the management team. That is his version of the huddle now, where he lays out how he is going to execute the game plan.  

Then he's on the floor, supervising, helping, planning. Lunch comes at noon in theory then he evaluates the workflow to see what, if any, changes need to be made.

Late afternoon, Smith is setting up the workflow for the night shift so that the next crew can come in and immediately start their work. About 6 p.m. he's writing his daily recap and a half-hour later he's leaving the warehouse. 

It is a tiring 12-hour day but he loves it. 

The NFLPA recognized that many players are not prepared for life after football, so these internships are a big part of helping them get ready for when they are no longer star athletes. Smith said a former teammate with the 49ers also got a job with Fanatics in Jacksonville. Currently, Smith is helping him learn the system and how things work in the business world.  

And he just got through the business world's equivalent of the playoffs, where every day is intense and the stakes are seemingly higher.  

With his first holiday rush at Fanatics out of the way, he has experienced the most frenzied and frantic period of his job to date. 

"I'm not a rookie anymore," Smith said with a laugh. "At least I hope not."

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Kristian R. Dyer writes for Metro New York and is a contributor to Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KristianRDyer. Email him at