SPARTANBURG, S.C. — The one-handed catches, the ball spins, the routes run with the intensity of an undrafted rookie trying to make the team – if Steve Smith is slowing down as he enters his 13th NFL season, he has an odd way of showing it.
“If I lost a step, that’s good, that’s great. It may happen, it may not,” Smith said. “But what I’m doing at 34, there are GMs hoping and praying they can draft a guy that can do what I’m doing.”
And with that, the longest-tenured player on the Panthers roster smiled.
Smith is in a good place these days. He’s healthy, feels good and is coming off back-to-back, 1,100-yard receiving seasons.
But he’s not content.
“You’re either comfortable, which leads to laziness, or you’re uncomfortable, which leads you to work hard each and every day, where you work as if it’s your first day vs. your last day,” Smith said Monday before practice. “The guys that get comfortable, those are the guys that leave.”
Smith, who holds all of the Panthers’ major receiving yards, is the third-oldest active wideout in the league, behind Plaxico Burress (who will turn 36 next week) and Reggie Wayne (35 in November). Smith, who was 34 in May, is three weeks older than Santana Moss.
Smith chalks up his longevity to good genes, clean eating and an offseason regimen with his Charlotte-based personal trainer Jed Hartigan.
Smith changed his diet seven years ago after reading an article about the benefits of organic foods. He often leaves Wofford’s campus at lunchtime to drive to the Whole Foods in Greenville to eat organic.
“I read that article, went home after training camp, cleaned out the whole pantry and went organic,” he said. “And ever since then, it’s easier to keep my weight down. I just feel a difference. So I try to keep on that regimen.”
Smith said he and his wife, Angie, get their milk delivered from a local farm.
Smith hasn’t missed a game the past two seasons. He caught a team-leading 73 passes for 1,174 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, while becoming the 27th receiver in NFL history to reach 11,000 receiving yards.
Brandon LaFell, the Panthers’ No.2 receiver, said Smith’s sustained success is not by accident.
“Everyone always asks me about Smitty and how he practices, and I say the same thing. If you take all the numbers off everyone on the field and go out and watch practice, you’ll still know where (No.) 89 is. Because he’s out there running around, jumping over guys, running past guys,” LaFell said. “He’s still making every play like it’s 2003.”
” Smith said. “But one thing you’ll never say about me is I didn’t work. I’m going to work.”