It was a frigid night in Seattle but inside the visitors’ locker room at Lumen Field, the party was heating up.

Moments after Donny Hageman drilled a game-winning field goal as time expired, the Battlehawks were celebrating a 20-18 win over the Sea Dragons – St. Louis’ second fourth-quarter comeback in as many games.

Jaryd Jones-Smith – left tackle and team disc-jockey – towered over the festivities, a custom-designed Battlehawks boom box hoisted high above the fray by mammoth arms that measured a record 88.5 inches wide at the 2018 NFL combine, a wingspan that rivals former NBA star Dwight Howard.

But even Jones-Smith’s massive frame struggles to contain his jovial personality and he’s been the glue that’s bonded players who were mostly strangers when Battlehawks’ training camp opened in January.

“Jaryd is an absolutely horrible teammate,” quarterback A.J. McCarron said, hoping to catch a nearby Jones-Smith eavesdropping. Then McCarron burst out laughing, something that happens often when Jaryd is around.

“He’s unbelievable. Listen, (he) is the vocal leader of our O-line and somebody I always lean on,” McCarron said. “It’s always good to see 75 protecting your blind side, he’s just played unbelievable.”

“I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Jones-Smith was the emcee of fun at every stop on a remarkable journey through football and life. But it hasn’t always redounded to his benefit.

“Funny enough, the first team I tried out for, I got cut. And they told me I smiled too much,” Jaryd said. “I will never forget that. I think it was like fourth grade, I got cut because they told me I smiled too much.”

If the coach believed the youngster lacked fire, he was dead wrong – Jones-Smith is a tenacious competitor, something the D.C. Defenders who sparred with Jaryd during a Week 3 scuffle that cost him a two-game suspension can attest.

So can his mom, Shirley, whose equally competitive edge rubbed off on her son. They play chess and keep a running tally of wins and losses, but Jaryd departed for the XFL at an inopportune time.

“We’re still tied – when I go back home, we got a couple chess matches to get to,” he said. “We don’t like being tied.”

Jones-Smith grew up in Camden, New Jersey and starred at Philadelphia’s West Catholic Prep. He started three games as a redshirt freshman at Pitt in 2014, including the Panthers’ win over ACC rival Miami to close the regular season.

He was poised to earn a starting job and spent the summer training with Pitt teammates Tyler Boyd and James Conner. The trio hoped to enter the NFL draft together when the season ended.

Summer workouts on June 24, 2015, had finished and the always-cheerful Jones-Smith was goofing around as the players left the field.

Suddenly Jaryd landed awkwardly on his right knee and instantly realized his season was over. He laid on the turf, closed his eyes and listened to the horrified reaction of his teammates and friends.

Jones-Smith didn’t realize that much more than one season was at stake.

He tore three of the four major knee ligaments and dislocated his tibia bone, which was sitting on top of the artery that delivered blood to his lower leg.

When he arrived at the hospital, Jaryd was eerily calm but thirsty. He was told a drink of water would have to wait.

“Had that bone sat on my artery for another ten minutes, they might have to take my leg. That was probably one of the most traumatizing things to hear,” he said.

Jones-Smith’s doctors told the Pittsburgh Gazette the damage to his knee was typically sustained only by car accident victims.

Boyd was selected by Cincinnati in the 2016 NFL Draft. Conner suffered a knee injury in the Panthers’ first game in 2015 and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma while in rehab, but he recovered and achieved success in the NFL with Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Jones-Smith spent the month that followed his injury incapacitated. Shirley moved in to care for him.

“I couldn’t do anything,” he said. “I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t feed myself, couldn’t bathe myself.”

“There was a lot of times I would get down on myself and my mother, being one of my best friends, she pretty much put her foot down and gave it to me straight.”

“If you really want to play football again, you can put the work in, because you can only feel sorry for yourself for so long, and after a while nobody else is going to care,” Jaryd recalls.

“For me, it goes God, then my mother,” he said. “I attribute the majority of my mental state and mental ability to (her).”

Shirley wasn’t the only one giving Jones-Smith tough love.

“I remember when I finally started walking, my trainers told the cafeteria staff if they saw me limping, not to feed me because they wanted me to walk straight,” he said.

FEBRUARY 23, 2023: The St, Louis Battlehawks against the Seattle Sea Dragons at Lumen Field on February 23rd, 2023 in Seattle, WA.
(© Howard Lao/XFL)


Incredibly, Jones-Smith appeared in eight games for the Panthers in 2016 and was the starting right tackle the following season. On Senior Day at Pitt, Jaryd went out in style.

The Panthers knocked off unbeaten Miami and hung 345 yards on the Hurricanes’ defense made famous by the “turnover chain” – it was a triumphant conclusion to a harrowing collegiate career.

Jones-Smith wasn’t done with football by a long shot, and the kid that smiled too much toured the NFL in search of a roster spot.

He made it to the final preseason cuts with Houston (2018), Miami (2019), and San Francisco (2020) but was released each time.

He caught on with Las Vegas and was on the Raiders’ active roster for three games in 2020, then released prior to the 2021 season. He was back in training camp in 2022, this time with Baltimore, but was waived before Week 1.

Battlehawks’ head coach Anthony Becht was delighted Jones-Smith was available and when the XFL Draft was held in November, St. Louis selected him with its first offensive lineman pick.

“The athleticism, the skill-set, the knowledge of his position clearly stands out,” Becht said. “He’s an NFL body, he’s an NFL guy.”

Jaryd agrees – so much so that he set aside a promising opportunity outside of football to play for St. Louis this spring.

Jones-Smith was on his way to audition for the Arizona Cardinals practice squad when Shirley mentioned in passing that Jaryd should consider an entirely different sort of audition.

“She asks me if I ever thought about starting a portfolio (for acting & modeling) – it was a quick conversation, like a fly-by conversation,” he said.

By the time Jaryd returned from Arizona, he learned Shirley had signed him up with a talent agency.

Jones-Smith was cast for a part in a movie yet to be released but he passed on the role to protect McCarron’s blind side.

If he pursues show business with the same passion as football, no doubt Jones-Smith will have opportunities come his way.

When they do, before the cameras start to roll, nobody will need to remind Jaryd to smile, or break a leg.



Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505