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Smith retires from pro football, wants to leave while still healthy

Saskatchewan Roughriders wide receiver Ryan Smith (#2) makes an epic reception while Toronto Argonauts defensive back Matt Black (#39) covers him during a game held at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Sask., on Sunday, July 5, 2015. Michael Bell / Regina (Sask.) Leader-Post1 / 2
Saskatchewan receiver Ryan Smith chats with family and friends after a CFL game on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Jeff Kolpack / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO — One of North Dakota's all-time most decorated football players is leaving the game. Ryan Smith, the owner of three Division I FCS national title rings at North Dakota State, is retiring after three professional seasons in the Canadian Football League.

The Wahpeton native said he wanted to go out on his terms and while he's still healthy.

"The shots just keep adding up a little bit," he said. "Obviously I've taken quite a few shots over my time."

Smith, a wide receiver, still had two years remaining on his contract with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He spent his first two seasons with Saskatchewan.

"I had a great three years up there," he said. "I met a lot of people and had a blast doing it. Football has led me to so many different places."

It led him to NDSU in 2010 where he developed into one of the best receivers in school history. He had 147 receptions — fourth on the NDSU all-time career list — for 1,783 yards and eight touchdowns. He was most electric on kick returns bringing three punts and one kickoff back for touchdowns.

Smith said he has been thinking about retiring for a while, a decision he said he took his time with considering the magnitude of it. He said Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea was surprised but supportive of the decision.

Smith had 53 receptions for 488 yards and one touchdown last season. His best year was 2015 when he caught 59 passes and seven touchdowns with the Roughriders.

"They're a top-of-the-line organization from the top down," Smith said of Winnipeg. "Anytime you come to a decision like that, you have to take into account what you're doing and who you're affecting."

An all-academic player at NDSU, he said he has yet to make a final decision on his next job.

"You see all those head injuries now, it just makes you think, what if I took another shot?" Smith said. "I want to be 45 years old and able to play with my kids and be able to run around. I don't want to be sitting there hurting and being barely able to walk. I want to go out on a positive note.

"Football is a grueling sport and injuries are part of it. The game has given me so much in life and I'll forever be in debt. It's a great sport but it's time to pursue other opportunities."

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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