Utah fans, and fans around the world, are about to go on a journey Friday night.
ESPN is letting fans into the life of former Utah quarterback Alex Smith as he recovers from a devastating injury that almost cost him his leg and his life. But 17 months since that terrible day left Smith in shock on the football field, the former No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL draft is ready to move on.
His road to recovery and near-death story — albeit it with the hope of returning to professional football — was chronicled by ESPN and is set to premiere on Friday. Titled "Project 11," a nod to Smith's jersey number with the Redskins, is set to air at 5:30 p.m. MST in a one-hour program.
“I think I’m so used to my body responding how I want it to respond. I had high expectations for this process and that I could knock it out of the park, and I think I’ve had to slow that a little bit,” Smith said during a promotional teaser for the documentary.
Smith is potentially the greatest quarterback to play for the Utes, leading the team to a 2004 Fiesta Bowl victory over No. 19 Pittsburgh. That Utah squad was known as the original "BCS Buster," finishing the season 12-0 and No. 4 in the AP rankings.
He then parlayed that success into a solid NFL career, playing with the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs before being traded to the Redskins in 2018 — which was followed by that fateful day in November when he was sacked by Houston’s J.J. Watt.
“No NFL player has ever been through what Alex Smith has,” Andy Tennant, E60 executive producer, said in a news release. “He’s normally a very private person but he wanted to document his road to recovery as well and as detailed as possible, with the hope that future players could use it as a road map. The access that he and his family granted to E60 is incredible and viewers will see a story of strength, dedication and perseverance.”
Among those participating in the E60 special are Urban Meyer, Smith's former coach at Utah, and Andy Reid, Smith's coach at Kansas City who won a Super Bowl last season.
The story will also dive deep into Smith's mindset throughout the process, and how he forever stayed positive — something reflected on by his wife Elizabeth when she saw Alex throw the ball again.
“To watch him light up, to watch him get that inner drive again,” she told Bell, saying it was something she hadn’t seen since the injury. “He kept his gratitude, he kept good perspective but not so much that drive. But I saw it again.”
Regardless of whether or not Smith returns to the field, his story is one of success and perseverance and will serve as a reminder for how powerful the human spirit lies within all of us.