Twenty-three years ago Dave Smith played wide receiver for Coach Chuck Klausing at tiny but undefeated Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The relationship helped land Smith with the Pittsburgh Steelers and into a moderately successful four-year NFL career. Now the two have joined forces once again to give lesser-known college football players the same opportunity at pro glory.
Their pet project is called the All-America Classic, an all-star game pitting players from Division I-A schools against stars from smaller institutions. The game has made a cross-country journey (with an aborted stop in Canada) over the past three years and on Monday will be played in RFK Stadium at 1 p.m.
"This is the talent the other bowl games do not invite," said Smith, who along with his son are the game's organizers and publicists. "It's a game of opportunity for these players who have only one chance to make it in the NFL."
Three years ago Smith, a former marketing manager in the aerospace and defense industry, founded the game in San Jose. He attracted numerous pro scouts and coaches but, looking for more fans, moved it to the Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg, Fla., the following year. Last year's matchup in Toronto was canceled at the last moment.
None of the games, including Monday's, have had corporate sponsors.
But among the participants in those three games, Smith says, 99 were drafted into the pro ranks, and 40 remain on active rosters, including Eagles wide receiver Fred Barnett, Cardinals defensive lineman Eric Swann (Swann did not play college football, but was invited while playing for a semi-pro team.), Cowboys offensive lineman Eric Williams and Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox. The list also includes two Redskins, Ted Rogers and David Gulledge.
"We've spent the last two years identifying players with talent," Smith said. "Talent but no publicity. We want to find players no one else looks at."
To coach these players Smith has enlisted Bill McGregor -- coach of the Washington area's top-ranked DeMatha Stags -- to lead the National squad (I-A players) and Klausing -- who coaches at Kiski (Pa.) Prep -- to lead the American team (small schools).
"I think the players will get a look," McGregor said. "Anyone who really enjoys the game of football will find this game intriguing."
McGregor in turn enlisted several of the area's top high school coaches to assist him: Gar-Field's Chuck White, Anacostia's Willie Stewart and Landon's Lowell Davis in addition to four DeMatha assistants.
They will coach, among others, four Maryland players: kicker Dan DeArmas, defensive lineman Darren Drozdov, defensive back Andre Vaughn and linebacker Eddie Tomlin.
And three Howard players will suit up for Klausing's team: safety Tim Watson, guard Nigel Greene and defensive end Ransom Miller, along with Bowie State defensive back Steve Smith.
"I enjoy this game very much," said Klausing, now in his 46th year of coaching. "It's a David-and-Goliath type of thing.
"I'll visit three of four pro camps in the summer and I've had players tap me on the shoulder and say 'Coach, remember when I played for you in that game?' That's what makes this game so interesting."
For now, Smith and son are working on final preparations for the players' arrival and four days of practice sessions. Their Capitol Hill office is bare-bones, one room, two phones. Smith knows how difficult it is for a small-school player to get a shot at the big time. He was helped by Klausing's long friendship with Steelers owner Art Rooney, who took a chance on Smith in the eighth round.
"I was overlooked," he said. "They assumed I didn't have talent. I've carried the determination to prove these kids need an opportunity."
Tickets to the game are $10 and are available through TicketMaster and the RFK Stadium box office.