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March 7, 2010On Saturday, former Missouri quarterback Brad Smith made his second trip to Columbia since leaving Faurot Field in 2005. Smith, now a restricted free agent for the New York Jets, accepted an award as MU's male athlete of the decade during the Tigers' regular-season finale against the second-ranked Jayhawks.
Not only did Smith leave Missouri as the NCAA's first career 8,000-yard passer, 4,000 yard rusher, but he arguably began the transition to national prominence for the football team.
The importance of the award was not lost on No. 16.
"It's amazing," Smith said at halftime. "To think about all the athletes that have played at Missouri and just, for them and the fans and the coaches, whoever all made the decision, it's just a tremendous honor."
Wearing a black shirt, Smith accepted his award alongside football coach Gary Pinkel and Missouri female athlete of the decade, former volleyball star Lindsey Hunter.
Because he's only visited Missouri a few times since he left for the NFL, Smith said the changes for both the football and basketball programs.
"I just love coming back, seeing the maturing and what it's become," Smith said. "I'm glad to be back today."
He's noticed a difference in the fans, as well.
"It (the fan support) has always been pretty strong," Smith began, "but now that all these teams are doing so well, just the energy is at another level.
"Hopefully, that will keep building."
Smith was drafted in the fourth round, 103rd overall, during the 2006 NFL draft. He's spent his entire career with the New York Jets, and significantly raised his profile during the later stages of the 2009 season. Smith had his best game as a professional against Cincinnati in Week 17, rushing four times for 92 yards and a touchdown.
The Jets put a second-round tender on Smith earlier this week. If another team offers a contract to Smith, and New York doesn't match, then the Jets will receive a second-round pick for compensation. According to the former Missouri star, plenty of teams have expressed interest in his services.
"It's just about having a team pull the trigger," Smith said. "There's been a lot of talk, a lot of positive talk."