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.
"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."
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