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Former Bison start careers in pro football

By Staff | Apr 18, 2014

Submitted by Saskatchewan Roughriders Former North Dakota State University standout Ryan Smith works out with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Tampa, Fla., earlier this month.

Ryan Smith and Reed Duchscher came from similar backgrounds. Both players enjoyed success in AA high school football. Smith starred at Wahpeton High School as a running back and Duchscher led the state in receiving at Rugby High. Both players decided to move from the rural lights of Friday nights to the bright lights of the Fargodome to play for former NDSU coach Craig Bohl.

Now the pair has started careers in professional football together.

With Duchscher as his agent, Smith – a standout wide receiver with NDSU – signed a contract with the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders on Monday. The contract makes Smith a member of the team on June 1 and will make him a Roughrider through at least the 2014 CFL season.

Duchscher played wide receiver for NDSU from 2008 through 2010. He graduated in 2012 with a degree in exercise science and his love of athletics and competition led him to pursue his master’s degree in sports management at Farleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. Duchscher caught on as an intern with a small agency called Integrity Sports Management. He was quickly hired as its client service manager for all sports.

As graduation neared, Duchscher looked west to find a more permanent position in the business with a larger company. He caught on with All Pro Sports and Entertainment in Denver as an intern last fall.

“After interviewing with a few agencies throughout the United States I decided All Pro Sports and Entertainment would suit me best,” Duchscher said. “They have a successful football department, representing Barry Sanders and Jerome Bettis, among others.”

Duchscher’s ultimate goal is to represent athletes that are also role models in their communities. Every agent needs his or her first client. They need someone who is willing to trust an inexperienced agent with his or her career. Duchscher found that in a conversation with another ex-Bison teammate who is chasing the dream of professional football.

“It’s actually pretty funny how it worked out,” Duchscher said. “(Former Bison quarterback) Brock Jensen and I were having one of our usual phone conversations relating to football and life when he brought up Bison players training for professional football. He told me Ryan was still in the process of finding an agent and that I should reach out to him.”

This idea was well received by Smith. Duchscher was a player that Smith looked up to when he arrived on NDSU’s campus. Smith credits Duchscher with assisting in his development during a switch to wide receiver. A position switch that Smith claims changed his life. There was no question who he wanted representing him.

“Usually agents contact the player about signing them,” Smith said. “This wasn’t the case for me. I remembered hearing that Reed was going to be an agent, so when I talked to him about signing it was a no-brainer for me. I wouldn’t want anyone else to be my agent.”

The player-agent relationship is an important one, and both men expressed the relief that they’re starting out together. It’s rare that an agent’s first client is a friend and former teammate.

“It was a special moment for both of us,” Duchscher said. “It’s weird to think that just a few years ago we were sitting in the film room together preparing for practice. I owe a lot to Ryan for giving me the opportunity to represent him and there’s no other person I’d want as my first client. His work ethic and determination are second to none. I have no doubt he’s going to do big things at the next level.”

Said Smith: “To have played with Reed and know him personally, being his first client is an honor. He is doing a great job with me and like I’ve said, I would not want anyone else to do this with me.”

Duchscher got to work quickly. He contacted several professional teams to generate interest in Smith. His focus quickly moved to the Canadian Football League. Smith garnered NFL interest after NDSU’s Pro Day, but it was apparent that the CFL presented the best opportunity to play offense – as opposed to spending time on an NFL practice squad or as part of a special teams unit.

“Once Ryan and I decided to go ahead with our relationship, I immediately began reaching out to area scouts,” Duchscher said. “I wanted to get as many eyes on his film as possible. I contacted Saskatchewan’s director of player personnel regarding Ryan and his future. He was very familiar with Ryan as he attended the first (NDSU) national championship game. After a few conversations we came to an agreement that Ryan would attend their minicamp in Tampa, Florida, in early April. Going into it, I knew all Ryan needed was an opportunity to turn heads, and he did just that.”

Selecting an agent can be a daunting task. Trusting someone with little experience is even more difficult. For Smith it was as simple as trusting a friend and teammate. Smith has an opportunity to play professional football and that was the goal. His performance at Saskatchewan’s mini camp impressed the coaches enough. When asked what position or role with the team he expects to have, Smith’s North Dakota humility shined through.?”To be honest, I will play whatever role the coaches want me to play,” he said. “I am just looking to play football and to help the team win. I just get another opportunity to play and I am grateful for that.”

At NDSU, Smith proved a skilled punt returner, an effective runner and a proficient slot receiver with 147 catches for 1,783 yards and eight touchdowns over the course of his Bison career. Smith garnered All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors three times. Productivity is not the question about Smith as it pertains to his prospects at the next level. His 5-foot-7, 175-pound frame is. Smith’s stature is not prototypical of a player at the professional level, but smaller players with elite speed and quickness can thrive, especially in the slot, the position Smith manned at NDSU.

NDSU still has a “small-school” reputation despite the national exposure delivered by a 7-3 record against FBS competition, hosting ESPN’s College Gameday and three consecutive national championships. Only 36 of the 254 (14 percent) players selected during last year’s NFL draft played for a non-FBS school.

Football after college was not going to come easy for Smith. He would have to be sold to a team. This was not an ideal task for the humble and driven kid from Wahpeton. Fortunately, prospective professional athletes don’t set out on these paths alone.

Editor’s Note: Uglem writes for the Packers Talk Radio Network and met Duchscher at NDSU.

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