The town I'm from is called Germantown in Northwest Philadelphia. It's inner-city, and there was a lot of negativity around me. When I was 14 or 15, there were a lot of things going on that I could have easily fallen victim to.
I grew up in a big household — five brothers and sisters. I'm the youngest of all six, the baby. My father passed when I was five years old, so my mom was left alone to raise all of us. Financially, it was a struggle because she had to take care of six kids on her own. But she got it done.
But at that age, one of my friends that I grew up in the neighborhood with was killed. He was probably two years older than me. My sister's boyfriend was killed, my brother got arrested and my friend got killed within a month. That was the norm, though. At that point my mom sent me away to Ocala, Florida.
I was with my aunt and my uncle and it was a whole new life for me. (It was) nothing that I was exposed to in Philly. I moved to the suburbs and I went to a big school — it was crazy. I felt like I was the Fresh Prince.
West Port High School is where I started focusing on football. My varsity coach, Ryan Hearn, was like, "You're a damn good tight end, you could take it to the next level."
I started buying into that. I started working harder, getting bigger, and colleges started coming in. FIU offered me, and that was my only college offer ever. I was happy, I just wanted to play college football. I didn't care where it was at.
The rest is history. I played under coach (Ron) Turner — great coach. Unfortunately, as a team, we didn't accomplish all of the things that we wanted to do. I don't have much to bring with me from that school, but I do have the guys. That's the most important part — the relationships that are built and can never be broken again. The people I met there will be my brothers for life.
Ironically, the draft was in Philly, in my hometown. I went back home and had a big draft party. All my family came out to support me. We were waiting for hours. It was the second day, and everybody's getting drafted. I can see people leaving the party early, but I knew they didn't really understand the process, so I wasn't really blaming them. I was just being patient. Names kept getting called over and over, so I took a walk with one of my friends. We walked around the block (and) walked back to my steps. Then, my phone rang with a 615 area code. I was talking on the phone and everybody got quiet when I walked in the house. They were like, "Is that...?" I'm telling everybody to be quiet. And then Jon Robinson said, "How does it sound to be a Titan?" And I said, "I love that sound." That changed my life forever.
Coming here you see guys come and go — it's a part of the business. In college, it's locked in. Even if you're performing bad, or not living up to the expectations, they can't cut you. But you come here — you can even be living up to expectations. But the way the business goes, they might be going in a different direction and you'll be out of here the next day. I'm just cherishing every moment and not taking it for granted; just being blessed and humbled to be in this situation.
These older guys, they've got knowledge. They've been doing this for years. At the end of the day, they help every young guy in this locker room — because we're here for the ultimate goal, to win. I soak up as much knowledge as I can from talented guys like Delanie Walker.
I'll never have the title "rookie" after this year, so I'm going to continue to embrace it.
The best part about being a rookie — it's a new beginning. It's a new look, new life, fresh start.
I'm a man of God. I'm heavy in my faith, so that keeps me going. No matter what happens. I don't care how much adversity is thrown at me. No matter what the storm is like, I'm always going to continue to stay steadfast in my faith. That's what keeps me going every day.
I'm going to come out here every day because I know that I've been blessed with a lot of ability. Every ounce that I can suck out of that, that's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to let it go to waste. If that's 10-12 years, if that's 10 days—anything can happen. I'm just here to show what I can do every day and not let what I got go to waste.
Just being able to be in this position and help my family, it's a blessing. Growing up the way I did, watching guys on Sundays as a little kid, to think that I'm one of those guys now, it's life-changing.
(Story compiled by Titans PR intern Qieara Lesesne)
The Titans select Florida International TE Jonnu Smith in the third round (#100 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft. (AP Photos, College Press Box)