www.baltimoresun.com/topic/sbt-for-riley-grad-smith-life-imitates-art-20130219,0,7591827.column

baltimoresun.com

For Riley grad Smith, life imitates art

Al Lesar

Commentary

5:25 AM EST, February 19, 2013

Advertisement

Nobody has ever had Scott Smith shout “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” into a telephone — yet.

But the 1989 Riley High School grad’s career path doesn’t differ greatly from the portrayal by actor Tom Cruise in the movie “Jerry McGuire.”

Big-time corporate NFL agent strikes out on his own.

Life imitates art?

After high school, the South Bend native was a strapping 5-foot-10, 220-pound outside linebacker/defensive end for the Wabash College football team.

“I was a bit undersized,” he said, stating the obvious.

What does a guy do with a philosophy degree from Wabash? Go to Valparaiso University Law School, of course.

While at Wabash, he met a girl named Shawn (a Valpo undergrad who grew up in northern Wisconsin) through mutual friends. They continued dating, and married in 1996.

Scott graduated from law school and Shawn earned her master’s in public administration.

The next logical move? To Boulder, Colo., where they both waited tables for a year.

“We wanted to experience a new lifestyle, so we moved to Colorado,” Scott said.

A regular lunch diner finally hired Scott to join his two-person law firm.

“My first case was a very contentious divorce case,” Scott said. “There was a lot of bitterness. It lasted close to two years. After that, I decided I didn’t want to be involved in litigation.”

After getting an advanced tax law degree, Scott found himself with a large law firm in Denver. Shawn was the head of marketing for the Denver Rescue Mission.

The Denver firm was just beginning to become involved with managing sports personalities. Scott found his niche, learning the business from an established NFL agent who had been added to the firm.

“I would just sit and listen in all the meetings,” Scott said.

That first year, the Denver firm secured representation for 16 draft-eligible players.

“I did a lot of the legwork,” Scott said. “I set up their training to get ready for the (NFL) Combine; went to their pro (workout) days; went to all-star games. I was in New Orleans for about two months.”

At the same time, Shawn was becoming acquainted with Denver-area professional athletes, who would do charity work for the Rescue Mission.

It took about four years of this “internship” in the world of representation in professional football before the idea finally hit Scott: Put his skills together with those of Shawn, and it could be a good match.

In 2004, XAM Sports (their oldest son’s name is Max) was founded.

“It was truly a mom and pop shop,” Scott said.

Scott, 41, and Shawn — and partner Jason Bernstein — now represent 25 players active on NFL rosters. Their shining star recently has been San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Robert Blanton, a former cornerback from Notre Dame who is with Minnesota, is also in the XAM stable.

Like a good parent, Scott is quick to say he doesn’t favor one client over another.

“But having a Super Bowl quarterback doesn’t hurt,” he admitted.

Scott skipped attending the Super Bowl in New Orleans, instead watching the game at home in Madison, Wis., with sons Max, 10, and Manny, 5. Shawn and Bernstein were there shepherding the non-team activities for Kaepernick, while also getting five other clients, who weren’t involved in the game, to other Super Bowl functions.

“The best part of this business is seeing our clients overcome obstacles and achieve success by working hard and maintaining their work ethic,” Scott said. “It’s been rewarding to see our agency become successful and relevant, considering we started a different way.”

And the worst part of the business?

“Recruiting is a grind,” he said. “We’ve developed a system where we can identify the athletes we’re interested in.”

Smith said more than 100 agents made their sales pitch to Kaepernick. Typically, Scott or Bernstein will contact about 10 draft-eligible athletes every year. A normal signing class is four or five.

“Being a smaller agency, we can back up the values we have,” Scott said. “We’re based on communication, relationships, responsibility and honesty. We’re looking for quality guys; good character.

“It takes a while. You have to have the trust of your client, but you also have to have the trust of the NFL people you deal with — general managers, pro personnel guys. You have to know the intricacies of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (that impacts NFL contracts).”

Post-Super Bowl, pre-Combine is the fun time. Shawn accompanied Kaepernick to a photo shoot and got to attend a pre-Grammy Awards party, rubbing elbows with celebrities.

“It’s a tough, competitive business,” Scott said. “The relationships are so important to us. We don’t ever want to lose that.”

That’s a pretty solid philosophy.

Maybe that Wabash degree paid off after all.