Smith’s site for athletes in real world
WHEN Chris Smith was starting at center for UH in 1998, all he had to do was look around to tell him he would someday have to go out and get a real job. Adrian Klemm over here. Kaulana Noa over there ...
"All those guys went to the NFL but me," he says.
Coming out of Mid-Pacific and Pac-Five, Smith was a gung-ho Rainbow, and he believed in Fred vonAppen's plan. But after 0-12, he was excited about a change.
New coach June Jones brought Smith into his office and told him it didn't look like he would play -- "I really wasn't as polished on the pass-blocking skills they needed," for the new run-and-shoot offense, Smith says. But Jones promised to work to find Smith a place where he could play, and start. Someplace where he would be a better fit.
"It was the best thing that ever happened to me," Smith says.
He spent the next season on the bench, as the Rainbows rebounded with a miracle to win the WAC. "I was just on the team, I never got in a game," Smith says. But, "being part of a championship is something I'll carry with me forever."
Then he went to Missouri State, a I-AA school, played two years, had the time of his life. He soaked in the chicken skin of playing in a sold-out SEC stadium, against Arkansas (he says the Hawaii guys are in for both a treat and a shock when they go to Alabama next fall).
He met his wife at Missouri State -- a mainland girl named Malia. "That's how come she talked to me," he says. She was impressed he knew it was a Hawaiian name.
Graduation came, and there would be no combines or draft days or free-agent camps for Smith. Being around Noa and Klemm showed him he wasn't where they were, and he was already into hitting the books, but that was an extra push. He got a great job out of school, with Eli Lilly, a Fortune 500 company.
"I got to see the structure of that, we had great sales training," he says.
College football was over. Smith was on the job. Real world. Real job.
He did well. His boss was impressed, asked if there were any more go-getters like him where he came from, and soon a couple of his ex-teammates were at the company, too.
It dawned on the bosses, and Smith, too, at the same time, that ex-college athletes were great at real jobs. They had work ethic, discipline, competitiveness, could take direction, had experience in overcoming odds. Everything. The whole package, right there. Eli Lilly started looking at more ex-athletes. And Chris Smith started coming up with a plan.
He'd always dreamed of having his own business, all the way back to his days as a kid in Hawaii when he was picking staples out of the carpet of his dad's print shop.
He kept working hard, and Malia was very understanding about this dream thing. He joined a mergers and acquisitions firm in Kansas City, sharpening his business skills. They saved their money, lived frugally. "Is that a word?" Smith says. It is.
And then Smith took out a couple of small loans -- he already had saved much of the money -- and started his own business, athletes4hire.com.
It's a Web site much like Monster.com or Career Planner, but this one is for employers looking for ex-college athletes and ex-college athletes looking for jobs. It launched Jan. 1 and there have been 30,000 visitors since. Smith says Fortune 500 companies have signed up. He's onto something here.
Add up all levels of competition, in every sport, and college athletes number in the thousands. "Another statistic that blew me away," Smith says, "since 1986 student-athletes are graduating at a higher rate than the rest of the student body."
Yes, it makes sense. They've been "inundated with résumés," Smith says. "If an employer knows they're looking for the skill set of a former college athlete," they'll know just where to look.
"I'm not saying to be successful you need to be a college athlete," Smith says. "But you develop so many skills that stay with you."
He's partnered with former Kansas State defensive end Dirk Ochs, who made a small splash in a pro camp before realizing, it's over.
Time to go out and start the rest of his life. Real world. Real job. This Web site is the story of his life.
Smith and Ochs spend a lot of time in athletic departments, talking to coaches and kids. Smith loves it. This business is his dream.
Athletes4hire.com is mostly a Midwest thing for now, but that's fine. "Of all the places, the Midwest is probably closest to the aloha spirit," Smith says. Of course, even a dream isn't perfect.
"As a former offensive lineman, I miss the plate lunches," he says.