Football players fall in love with the game at various ages. For Shane Smith, it was when he was nine years old.
"I started because my sister cheerled and I didn't know kids my age could play football," the fullback said. "So I just asked her, 'You cheerlead for real football players?' And she was two years older and she said yeah, so my parents signed me up."
Smith grew up in California and attended Los Gatos High School, where he was a first-team All-State selection his senior year as a linebacker and fullback. Smith entered San Jose State as a linebacker, and after redshirting his first year, he switched to the offensive side of the ball to focus on being a fullback.
"We had two senior linebackers, so I probably wasn't going to play over them and we didn't have any fullbacks so I asked the coaching staff if I could switch because I wanted to play," Smith said. "They pretty much said yeah, and I started all four years and that was it."
Smith was a three-time Academic All-Mountain West honoree, and his blocking helped Tyler Ervin rush for a school-record 1,601 yards. Living most of his life out west, Smith switched coasts when the Giants signed him as a rookie free agent last season.
"It's quite the change going from coast to coast," Smith said. "The winters are extremely cold. California, it's like coldest winter you get is like 50 degrees. Summertime, it's dry heat; out here, it's super humid. It's quite the adjustment and it took some getting used to."
Smith played in 11 games last year, primarily on special teams or lining up as a tight end alongside Evan Engram. Being able to bounce around the offense adds to Smith's value as one of 53.
"I think just the fullback position in today's football, you have to be versatile, you have to be able to line up everywhere," Smith said. "Whether you want to consider me a tight end or fullback or H or whatever you want to call it, you've got to be able to line up everywhere, especially in [coach Pat] Shurmur's offense. He doesn't really care who lines up where as long as you know what you're doing."
Shurmur likes using a fullback in his offense, and it's no surprise he plans on using one this season. However, rookie running back Saquon Barkley spent most of his college career without another back in front of him blocking. Barkley has been doing everything he can to get used to playing with a fullback.
"Luckily, we signed Jonathan Stewart this year who has played a lot with a fullback," Smith said. "He knows how to read the blocks, set blocks up, so he's definitely helping Saquon. I know Saquon's got some film from some old school fullback clips, so I know he's studying. We sit next to each other in meetings and stuff, so we're always talking, he's always asking questions how to set up blocks, do I press that here or there. I think he'll do a really good job."
Last year, the Giants had a down year and struggled throughout the season. With the season opener around the corner, Smith feels like the team is starting with a clean slate.
"I think that the team chemistry and team camaraderie is just through the roof," he said. "I think that everybody is willing to fight for each other, play for each other. I think we all really like the coaching staff and the energy they bring, how they handle different situations. I think we're vibing really well."