FRISCO, Texas – Among many sobering moments over the past four years, Aldon Smith was able to pinpoint one that helped him get his life back on track.
In the midst of an indefinite suspension from the NFL and a long battle with addiction, Smith said it was the loss of his grandmother that brought things back into focus.
"She had ALS, and so she passed at an earlier age than she should have," Smith said. "ALS, it takes away a lot of your body function, so she couldn't speak."
Be that as it may, Julia Edwards managed to pass on one last message to her grandson – and it resonated.
"The last time I seen her, she was able to get some words and get a message to me, and that was just 'Do better,'" Smith said. "Basically, go out here and get what you deserve. And that stuck with me."
Powerful as that message may have been, the responsibility still laid with Smith. For those not aware, it's been a winding road since the former All-Pro last played football, then as a member of the Oakland Raiders.
Since being drafted into the NFL back in 2011, Smith has been arrested numerous times – several of which were for driving under the influence of alcohol. With the legal trouble came multiple NFL suspensions, including the one he was serving up until his official reinstatement this week.
Eventually, Smith said, he reached his breaking point.
"For me, like with most people, I think if anybody really wants to change, it comes from within," he said. "And so I got to a point where I was fed up with how I was living my life, and I knew I needed to change if I wanted to be something and get back ahold of my life."
Fast forward a year, and that certainly seems to be the case. Smith is sober and has been working out diligently, as evidenced by the Cowboys' decision to sign him back at the beginning of April. He is currently weighing in at "a very fit 285," and as of this week he has been cleared to take part in the Cowboys' virtual offseason program.
While it has been a long layoff since he last played football, Smith said he doesn't think much of it because he knows what he's capable of doing.
"I still feel great. I still feel young, I still can move well. I still have a great knowledge of the game, if not a better knowledge of the game," he said.
"I learned a lot from the guys I played with in California, and they taught me a lot of good things. I know how to be a leader, I know how to win. Everything I've gone through and learned throughout life, I feel like I can be a source – people can talk to me about whatever they need. I'm just looking to be a help on the field and off the field."
The potential is awfully intriguing. As the No. 7 overall draft pick for the 49ers, Smith piled up an absurd 42 sacks in his first three seasons, before his off-field troubles began. He earned his All-Pro designation off the strength of a 19.5-sack season in 2012, helping San Francisco to the Super Bowl in the process.
"I obviously haven't played football against other guys in quite some time, but I will know the first couple days, or times I put on pads and compete, where I stand. I'm looking forward to it," he said.
It's hard to say when or where that will happen, due to the current circumstances with COVID-19. But it's an encouraging step of what Smith described as a journey that he's grateful to have taken.
Because, as much as Smith might be able to help the Cowboys on the field, it's a journey with important ramification off of it.
"I'm not trying to become a better person, I am becoming a better person," he said. "And with the help of the people in my life, the people that have reached out, and with me just wanting what's better for myself, that's been able to happen. The journey to being a better person isn't just so I could get back and play football."