When Kiero Small left Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania after one semester, the Baltimore native thought his football career was over.

Tired of reveille at 4 a.m., the former Cardinal Gibbons standout returned home and joined the working world. He spent over a year toiling away at his family's T-shirt shop downtown.

Although it reinforced his work ethic and helped out his family's business, Small eventually yearned to play football again.

"I wound up leaving military school, and I just spent all of my time working," Small said in a recent telephone interview. "I thought I was done with football. One day, I decided I wanted to play again. So, I called every junior college in California.

"One of them called and said if I could pay for my own way out there and rent, I could come be on the team. I saved up $1,000, and the plane ticket cost $500. So, I went out to California with $500 to my name and a dream. The rest is history. I appreciate everything about my journey."

Small emerged as an All-American selection at Hartnell Junior College in California who divided his time between fullback and linebacker.

That helped him to earn a scholarship to Arkansas, where he built a reputation as a punishing lead blocker who helped the Razorbacks make it to the Cotton Bowl in his first season. Small has broken facemasks with his collisions.

Last year, the 5-foot-8, 245-pounder rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 128 yards. Small played his final season at Arkansas in 2013 after being granted a medical redshirt when he missed all but one game of the 2012 season with a broken foot that required surgery.

"I loved it at Arkansas," Small said. "It was huge when they gave me the scholarship. I've grown a lot and matured and gotten better as a football player every year. I came there, and I was going to play linebacker, but [former Arkansas coach] Bobby Petrino thought I would fit his offense perfectly as a fullback.

"He was right. It worked out great with the new coaching staff as well. Playing in the Southeastern Conference, you compete against the best. So, it really helps you develop as a ballplayer."

Now, Small is making a bid for the NFL as a potential late-round draft target or a priority free agent.

He has worked out for the San Diego Chargers and the Atlanta Falcons and visited the Cleveland Browns. Small also participated in the Ravens' local prospect day.

"The Browns have a new coaching staff, and they say their system can use a fullback," Small said. "It seems like they like tough guys, and that's what I really embody. I left there with a great feeling about everything with their organization and what they're all about.

"The Chargers workout was great. Their scout was really surprised by how athletic I was. That's pretty much been the thing where people see me on film and see how I can move. I can't wait to find out where I'm going to play. Wherever I wind up going, I'm just going to work hard every day to prove myself."

awilson@baltsun.com

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