- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Keith Smith doesn't sound bitter or defeated.
Like he has many times before, the Purdue receiver is taking the high road.
We're still waiting for an explanation as to why the NCAA denied Smith a sixth year of eligibility at Purdue. Another season in college would have allowed Smith to fully recover from knee surgery, improve his game and showcase his skills for NFL talent evaluators during the fall.
Instead, the pro process speeds up for the Boilers' All-Big Ten receiver, but he's taking the news in stride.
"It’s not that it’s disappointing," Smith said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. "It’s just a different path now. It’s now to go further and play in the NFL. I’m sad I can’t go out there on Saturdays and play with my teammates anymore, but now it’s to take my life a step further and play on Sundays."
Smith remained optimistic while awaiting a decision, but the longer he waited, the more he prepared for the NCAA to deny his request. He admitted his situation is unique but felt he had presented a strong argument for a sixth year at Purdue.
Central to Smith's case was him redshirting the 2007 season. He left school that spring because of a family situation at home in Texas and fell behind academically. Although he returned before the fall, an ankle injury prevented him from practicing and required surgery after the season.
Would Smith have been granted a sixth year if his redshirt season was solely because of injury? Tough to tell.
"When it comes down to stuff like this, you don’t really know which way it’s going to go," said Smith, who hasn't been given an explanation for the denial. "You hope for the best but you’re planning for the worst. I’ve been preparing for this decision and now I’m ready to get rolling."
Smith started the process during the weekend as he attended the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Despite his eligibility situation, Smith received an invitation to the event.
Although his knee prevented him from participating in drills, Smith went through medical exams and interviewed with several teams, including the Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers.
"The combine helped a lot," he said. "To see the business aspect of the NFL, it’s very straightforward and they let you know that from the first time you step into that building. I'm grateful they invited me."
Smith's rehab is going well and he's running routes at full speed. Although he won't be ready for Purdue's pro day, he plans to work out for NFL teams in mid April, just before the draft. His agent immediately started contacting pro squads after the NCAA's ruling Monday.
Although Smith's return certainly would have helped Purdue, Smith is optimistic about the receiver group, led by Justin Siller.
While Monday's ruling ended Smith's Purdue's career, he's excited about the future -- pro ball and then a career in law enforcement.
"It’s nice to finally get an answer," Smith said, "to know which path my life is going."
19hSam Khan and Greg Ostendorf