TEMPE, Ariz. – There was a three-year period in which Alfonso Smith wondered if he were paying for the sins of prior generations.
He was a minor part of the offense (60 carries, 245 yards) during his senior season at Kentucky in 2009. That same school year, his fiancée, Ashley Beeler, was diagnosed with mid-stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In December of 2011, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. And following what Smith believed was his best NFL preseason in 2012, the Cardinals released him — one day before his mother was taken off life support.
“For a while, it was like there was a plague over my life,” Smith said Monday. “It’s hard to be happy about anything when all of that is crashing down on you.”
But Smith has never been the woe-is-me type. His mom wouldn’t allow it, Beeler wouldn’t allow it, and neither would his own belief that brighter days were just around the corner.
“Losing my mom was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in life, but while she was on the bed dying, she looked at me and said, ‘Baby, you’re going to be all right,’” Smith said. “I knew I had to keep fighting because she’s dying and all she’s worried about is me.”
Both Smith and Beeler believe she is also watching out for him. With Beanie Wells shelved by toe and knee injuries last season, the Cardinals re-signed Smith just three games into the season — and the same week in which his mom’s funeral was scheduled.
“We were like, ‘Wow, his mom’s up there working already,” Beeler said, laughing. “She goes to heaven and here come the Cardinals calling.”
Smith understands that the NFL is a cut-throat business in which nothing is assured. But following his recent decision to accept the Lord as his savior, he admits a newfound confidence and a more positive outlook. It helps that Beeler, who Smith calls “my rock,” has been in remission almost three years, with the survival rate for her form of cancer at around 90 percent.
But Smith also sees opportunity to be a greater part of the Arizona offense even though he sits fourth or fifth on the current depth chart of a one-back offense. To him, this is the smallest sample of adversity he’s faced in years.
“It’s part of life, and it’s no different in football,” he said. “Sometimes you get handed a great hand; sometimes you don’t. Regardless, you’ve got to know how to play it.”