A New Beginning

In a Badger Nation exclusive, former Badger Lance Smith talks about leaving Wisconsin, the misconceptions surrounding him and how much he's looking forward to his fresh start in Memphis.

MADISON - The only thing that Lance Smith wanted was a second chance at football and at life.

Being suspended for UW's five road games in 2007 after his off-the-field incident involving a fight with his girlfriend, Smith was able to rush for 436 yards and three scores and avoided trial by enrolling in Dane County's first offender program, giving him the ability to put the incident behind him and have a fresh start in 2008.

But a full plate of commitments caused Smith to get behind in completing the program, which had a December deadline, and ended up having his contract terminated in late July.

"I haven't been in any trouble since that situation and I was just surprised, honestly, that they kicked me out of the program," Smith said in an exclusive interview with Badger Nation. "The reason they kicked me out of the program was that I got caught up in school, caught up in football and caught up with my daughter. I was doing the program but I was doing it at a slow pace and it wasn't acceptable I guess."

In addition to being force to stand trial for the crime, Smith was suspended indefinitely by head coach Bret Bielema until the manner was resolved. Sitting down with Bielema roughly a week later, the pair decided that a change of scenery and a new start would be the best thing for both Smith and Wisconsin.

"Coach B and I decided that the best thing for me to do was to leave because if I get caught in a situation, it wasn't going to look nice for anybody or my life ahead of me or my daughter," Smith said. "I felt that I needed to start fresh and I think this was the best decision for me."

That fresh start turned out to be the University of Memphis, members of Conference USA. Trimming his transfer list down to Akron, Memphis, Nebraska or Ohio, Smith liked the coaching stability in Memphis and that he could jump in the backfield and contribute next season.

More importantly, Smith would be joining four other transfers - Jamon Hughes (Mississippi State), linebacker Derrick Odom (LSU) and defensive back DeRon Furr (Auburn).

"Coach West is a really good guy and has been coaching there for a long time and I like the university," Smith said. "They have a bunch of players who transferred here from other Division I schools and we're all sitting out this year and going through everything together. I can relate to those who transferred here because they were in the same situation I was in.

"They seem like good people and they welcomed me with open arms and were willing to put my situation behind me and give me another chance at this level."

When Bielema originally announced Smith's departure, he hinted that Smith might go to an I-AA (FCS) school so that he wouldn't have to sit out a year and could compete right away. Smith had talks with I-AA Youngstown State but in the end, Smith felt he needed a year away to get comfortable and, more importantly, spend time with his new daughter, Leela.

"I really wanted to be able to spend time with her and to jump right into I-AA football would have been hard," he said on his decision. "I talked to Youngstown State and they weren't going to redshirt me, they were going to have me play right away. I felt like that I have been through so much that I should sit out this year and let everything blow past, step on the scene next year and be ready to go."

Born on August 24 to him and his girlfriend, being a first time father has really put his life and his new surrounding in perspective.

"Fatherhood is great. Just hearing her cry, holding her and seeing her is just great," he said. "I really love my daughter and am really going to make the best of this situation in Memphis to provide a good life for my daughter."

But the lingering thoughts of Wisconsin still enter his mind now and then. Smith was the speedster in the Wisconsin backfield, leading the team with 6.0 yards per carry last season, and was a perfect compliment to the bruising power of P.J. Hill. Smith is still close with many members on the team, including position coach John Settle, but in the end, Smith knew what he needed to do.

"I've been through a lot through Wisconsin," he said. "I honestly feel like that I never got a chance to do a lot of good things on the field there. I had been through so much that I needed a fresh start in general to start my life all over. Some people may think that I am a person I am really not. Here, it's not really like that. They realize that people get into situations but we are all trying to make the best of it and I have no regrets at all."

Smith was sentenced to 20 days in jail on August 14th and it was reported that Smith served received four days credit for time already served, five days of ‘good time' credit and served only 10 days in prison and was released on August 30th. When asked, Smith was angered by the reports as the junior running back said he never stepped foot inside a prison cell.

"I was originally sentenced to 20 days but my lawyer did his homework and got it reduced to eight days house arrest," he said. "I never did any days in jail and that's what I learned about the media. The media just throws things out there without finding out the true truth story. They didn't know what I was really going through. Some people of the media will say anything without knowing the full facts of the story. I was never in jail and I am thankful to that."

With a new daughter and a new team, Smith has already started moving forward with the Tigers, participating in his first practice with the team on Wednesday. Having turned a corner in his professional and personal life, Smith has set high goals for himself to make sure he never crosses paths with the law again.

"I just thank God that I have the mother that I have and the family I have," Smith said. "They helped me get through this and my girlfriend helped me get through this. Honestly, I am trying to move forward, put the past behind and not catch myself looking back. I look at it as everything happens for a reason and that reason was to bring me to Memphis and take my game to the next level.

"I set a lot of goals for myself. These two years at the university, I need to just focus in on school, my daughter, my girl and football. If I just focus on that, nothing can go wrong from doing and focusing on what I need to do to provide a good life for my daughter."


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