CROWN POINT | It's a fact of football life, especially for those pining to go pro: size matters.
Travis Smith was eventually confronted with that reality after his career at Taylor University ran its course.
"I knew I wasn't going to play in the NFL," said the Chicago native, who starred at defensive back for the Upland, Ind., school, where he earned Mideast League honorable mention honors, "but I wanted to somehow stay in sports."
While at Taylor, Smith earned his degree in exercise science before earning his CSCS and RSCC certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Through personal connections matched with dogged persistence, Smith took a job in professional baseball, becoming a trainer within the Florida Marlins organization. Later, he became the strength and conditioning coach for the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate, where Smith spent last season.
"I work for the (Isotopes) during the season, but I also work with the major league team during spring training," the 26-year-old said. "(The Dodgers) have a lot of young talent. The Marlins also have a lot of young talent, but when you talk about money and resources, it's hard to match the Dodgers' organization."
Last winter, the baseball season was extended for Smith as he found work within the Mexican League.
"For a young African-American to get an opportunity to experience another culture in another country ... that's what baseball can do for you," Smith said. "Baseball is everything down there. It's serious here, too, but their winter season is only 66 games so they make moves real fast.
"If you're not performing, they'll cut you loose in a hurry."
This winter, Smith is back in the region as a trainer at the Fast Center in Crown Point. He had previously worked there during the 2011 baseball offseason.
"I had met (Fast Center owner Jordan Smolar) at an athletic performance mentorship program," Smith said. "We got to talking, and eventually I joined his staff."
Smolar is glad Smith is back home until spring training.
"What we stress is teaching proper body movement," said Smolar, a former minor league pitcher who prepped at Highland. "Some places will have kids load up on the weights.
"But if you don't train your body to move properly, you're likely going to get injured."
Some of the finest athletes in region train at Fast Center, including All-Duneland Athletic Conference soccer player Spase Dorsuleski, who helped Crown Point win two state championships; Hobart senior and South Carolina-bound Brandon Murray, whose fastball was clocked a 98 miles per hour at a baseball showcase last summer; Crown Point cross country runner Matt Mosak, who was named his team's "Freshman of the Year," and Crown Point running back Jessie Martin, who was graded as one of top underclass performers at the NUC Top Prospect Elite Camp held in Normal, Okla.
"We also plan to start offering training to adults and non-athletes," said Smolar, whose younger brother, Jared Smolar, an All-DAC punter for Valparaiso, also trains at Fast Center.