Suspended “Whizzinator’ back Smith headed to CFL


ST. PAUL, Minn. – After multiple setbacks in the United States, former Vikings running back Onterrio Smith will try to right his football career in Canada.

Suspended from the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and denied reinstatement until at least October, Smith signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League on Friday.

During a teleconference with reporters in Winnipeg, Smith, released by the Vikings last month, said he made mistakes because he was “young and careless.” He acknowledged that he had a problem with marijuana.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Smith said via phone from Marina Del Rey, Calif. “I’ve been out of football for over a year now and haven’t taken a hit for over 16 months. So it’s an opportunity for me to come out and really get back into football.”

Smith, 25, was stopped at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on April 21, 2005, for possessing the “Original Whizzinator,” a device designed to beat drug tests. Last May, he failed or missed an NFL-mandated drug test, and on June 7 he was banned from the league for one year. He subsequently checked in to a three-month rehabilitation center in Massachusetts.

Smith has a history of substance use, starting in 1999 when he was dropped by the University of Tennessee football team after testing positive for marijuana. He transferred and finished his college career at the University of Oregon.

Blue Bombers general manager Brendan Taman said he investigated Smith’s past.

“He’s been in rehab seven of the last 12 months with his problem, so he’s trying to do the right thing,” Taman told Winnipeg reporters. “So what we’re doing is we’re just trying to give him a chance to prove to people that he can play and that he can get his life on track. We’re willing to give him that chance.”

Taman said Smith will be subject to the club’s on- and off-the-field policies. In addition, Smith said he would be tested by the NFL four times a month.

Smith said he was unsure why the NFL informed him last month that he would not be reinstated.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I don’t make the calls. They probably think that I’m not ready yet, but whatever reason it may be, I will be ready in October.”

Smith said he will “take a little bit” to get back into shape. But he is confident that he can team with Charles Roberts, who led the CFL last season with 1,624 rushing yards.

“I’ve never been a guy to go in demanding that I start,” Smith said. “I’ve always been the guy that goes in and works toward starting. To get an opportunity to just come and play, I’m excited about that. I’m not looking to come in and step on no toes.”

Smith said his struggles the past few years has made him appreciate his opportunity to play in the NFL.

“I was kind of taking things for granted, and I kind of lost my hunger along the way,” he said. “But I figured out football is what I want to do, and this is my life and I’m going to push at it for however long as I can.”

While he hasn’t played football since the 2004 season, Smith isn’t lacking confidence.

“I produce a talent that’s pretty rare,” he said.

(c) 2006, St. Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.).

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-05-12-06 2214EDT