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No cap and gown for KU's Fish Smithson this weekend — Washington rookie camp calls

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Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon (25) is tackled by Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct.29, 2016.

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon (25) is tackled by Kansas safety Fish Smithson (9) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Oct.29, 2016. by Alonzo Adams/The Associated Press

Over the past several months, as he trained for a future he hopes will include numerous seasons in the NFL, Fish Smithson looked forward to May 14. Like thousands of his University of Kansas classmates, Smithson couldn’t wait to finally walk down the hill at KU’s commencement ceremony and celebrate graduating on the same Memorial Stadium turf where he played the past three seasons.

KU’s former safety, though, is foregoing one dream this weekend to chase another. While his fellow graduates back in Lawrence commemorate their accomplishments as students on Sunday, Smithson will be in Virginia, at the Washington Redskins’ training facility, grinding away, attempting to attain his longterm goal.

He packed up his gear and left Kansas on Thursday to fly out to Washington D.C. Smithson, who called missing KU’s commencement “tough,” at least finds himself in the midst of a great alternative: participating in the Redskins’ three-day rookie mini-camp, which begins Friday.

The 5-foot-10, 201-pound defensive back, who signed with Washington as an un-drafted free agent, is headed back near his hometown of Baltimore, but admitted he didn’t care much for the Redskins growing up.

“Not at all,” Smithson said, laughing about how things turned out.

His father, Tony, always turned Baltimore games on in the Smithson residence, because he loved watching the Ravens’ star linebacker, Ray Lewis.

“When the games came on, he kicked us all out the living room and we couldn’t talk. We couldn’t do anything while the Ravens game was on,” Smithson said, explaining how he and his siblings, too, always preferred Baltimore’s NFL team to D.C.’s.

He would’ve been thrilled to try and make the roster with any organization, but Smithson admitted he’s excited about getting a chance to play close to home. Coincidentally, a few weeks before the draft, Fish’s sister, Tamicka, moved to D.C., and she lives basically across the street from FedExField.

“It’s crazy how that all worked out,” Smithson said. “She’s already talking about converting.”

Of course, for an un-drafted prospect such as Smithson, this weekend’s rookie camp is just the first stretch of what will be a formidable road to Washington’s 53-man, regular-season roster. The team currently lists seven other safeties on its active roster — not including un-signed late-round draft picks Montae Nicholson, from Michigan State, and Josh Harvey-Clemons, who played safety at Louisville but is listed as a linebacker. Smithson, whom the organization likes at free safety, plays the same position as veterans DJ Swearinger, DeAngelo Hall, Will Blackmon and Deshazor Everett.

Like many incoming rookies, Smithson doesn’t have to look far or hard to find inspirational fuel for this stage of his football career. Actually, one source can be found within his Twitter handle. Smithson didn’t have an account until April, but when he set it up he wanted it to remind him of his upbringing. As he explained it, @fannishthem both combines his name, Fish, with that of his grandmother, Ann, and incorporates a personalized acronym: family always need new income so help.

None by Fish Smithson

“Just my motivation that my grandmother is there with me,” Smithson said. “She gave me the name and my family always needs help, so help them.”

The three-year Kansas safety just might get that chance with the support of his NFL earnings one day. Chris Burke at SI.com recently identified Smithson as a sleeper for Washington.

“He brings the prerequisite versatility needed at safety,” Burke wrote for SI, “especially in coverage — he can play high or match up man-on-man in the slot. He may be a practice-squad guy as a rookie, or latch on elsewhere, but there’s NFL-caliber ability in his game.”

Although Smithson wishes he could don a cap and gown on Sunday in Lawrence, he’ll be right at home in a helmet and pads at Washington’s rookie camp.

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