ORONO, Maine — You can only play for so long. You can work forever.
That’s the philosophy Warren Smith is taking as he continues to pursue his professional football career.
On Saturday, the former University of Maine quarterback will be in Salt Lake City, where he will be evaluated during a workout for the Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League.
“I’m pretty excited,” said Smith, who completed his collegiate career by leading the Black Bears to a 9-4 record and a spot in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national quarterfinals in 2011.
“It’s a good chance to expose myself, playing football at the professional level,” said Smith, who is doing a physical education student teaching rotation at Doughty Middle School in Bangor. “It’s the opportunity to make a name for myself and hopefully advance up the ranks.”
Smith is one of a handful of former UMaine players playing football, albeit below the National Football League or Canadian Football League levels.
Former Black Bears wide receiver Jeremy Kelley recently signed with the Jacksonville Sharks of the AFL after a stint with Utah. Safety Trevor Coston, who was in training camp with the NFL’s Chicago Bears last summer, recently signed to play with the AFL’s Chicago Rush.
UMaine’s NFL representatives are Mike DeVito of the New York Jets, Montell Owens (Jacksonville Jaguars), Enfield native Matt Mulligan (St. Louis), Jerron McMillian (Green Bay) and Lofa Tatupu (Atlanta).
Smith, a 6-foot, 195-pound native of Forked River, N.J., is hoping to get a look from an NFL team.
He ended his UMaine career a year ago, earning a spot on the All-Colonial Athletic Association second team. As a senior, Smith completed 64.3 percent of his passes (270-for-424) and was third in the CAA in passing yards (240.3 ypg) and pass efficiency (134.1). He was second in total offense (262.9 ypg).
Smith’s 3,122 passing yards set a school single-season record.
He prepared hard during the postseason for UMaine’s “Pro Day” workouts, but did not receive any NFL or CFL offers. He didn’t let that stop him from pursuing his dream of playing professionally.
“I had a few indoor [arena] teams that wanted me to come out there, but I wanted to play outdoor football,” explained Smith, who wanted to play the traditional 11 vs. 11 game in the hope of catching the eye of a higher-level team.
He searched overseas.
“I emailed like 30 teams in Europe and the Dresden Monarchs from Germany contacted me,” he said.
After graduating in May, Smith embarked on a new football experience as one of a handful of Americans playing for Dresden in the German Football League.
He arrived on a Tuesday night and played the following Saturday — in front of 9,000 fans.
“You can imagine there was some miscommunication and I wasn’t on the same page as everybody else,” said Smith, who spoke no German at the time. “I didn’t know my O[ffensive]-line’s names and I was still learning the playbook.”
Smith admitted there was considerable pressure as one of the imports. He explained a lot of the American players in Germany came from high-profile Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
He said many of the German players, because of their relative inexperience, weren’t as advanced in terms of their skills and knowledge of the game as a college player from the U.S.
“A lot of these kids don’t start playing until they’re 15 or 16 years old,” said Smith, who explained soccer is the main sports attraction in Germany and across Europe. “They learn quick and they’re strong kids. They work hard and they’re very disciplined.”
Smith was instrumental in helping Dresden post its best season ever. The Monarchs put together a nine-game winning streak and finished at 11-5, with a loss to eventual champion Kiel in the league semifinals.
In 14 games, Smith completed 172 of 299 passes for 2,434 yards and 28 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. He also was the Monarchs’ No. 2 rusher (104 carries, 483 yds., 11 TDs).
“They even had me doing option. I felt like RG3 out there,” Smith said with a laugh, referring to Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
While the German League did not provide the same level of competition Smith saw at UMaine, it provided him with a chance to share his knowledge and experience.
Smith helped develop the offensive plan and said he wound up installing many of the Black Bears’ plays for the Dresden offense.
The team playbook was in English and he called out the signals in his native language, which made things easier for him. Smith said most of the German players had little trouble with that dynamic.
“The hardest time was with the O-linemen,” he said. “By the time I left, they understood me pretty well.”
The energetic Smith said he did have to learn to slow down when speaking to help improve the lines of communication.
With coaching likely in his future, Smith tried to take advantage of working with his teammates and area youngsters. As part of his contract with the Monarchs, he was required to help coach a youth team in Dresden.
“I got to work on some coaching, even though the kids didn’t really understand me,” said Smith, who communicated through a translator.
Playing in Germany also provided Smith with an intriguing opportunity to experience another culture. He traveled around Europe and saw some memorable sights.
“I went to Prague, in the Czech Republic, and there’s a clock there that’s 600 years old that still works,” Smith said of his most memorable trip. “People come from all over the world to hear it go off.”
Smith said Dresden has offered him a contract if he wants to play in Germany again next year. While he is appreciative of the opportunity, he is aiming higher.
Even though the Arena Football League showcases an 8-on-8 game, Smith said if he can hook on with a team, the nature of indoor football could help his marketability.
“There are quarterbacks all over the place that get shots in the league [the NFL] or the CFL, because they throw the ball so much [in the AFL],” he said. “You get to show off your arm; that’s what it comes down to.”
Smith has continued to train at UMaine, where he was a volunteer assistant with the football team last season. Strength and conditioning coach Dan Nichol has set up a rigorous program to help Smith get stronger and faster.
“My goal is to keep advancing in my play and to play at the highest level possible,” Smith said.