Alex Smith stood in the Washington Football Team locker room at the end of last season, reflecting on his recovery and discussing what was on the horizon.
Throughout the interview, one thing was abundantly clear: he was hell-bent on returning to the field.
"Without a doubt, yeah," Smith said when asked about his plans to play in 2020. "I still have dreams of getting back to where I was and getting back out there. This has been, obviously, a crazy ride with a lot of unforeseen turns, but without a doubt that's still my goal."
Over the past 21 months, Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury, endured life-threatening complications and embarked on a harrowing road to recapture what he lost on Nov. 18, 2018.
That journey led him back to the Inova Sports Performance Center, where starting Sunday he'll begin practicing with the team after being activated from the Physically Unable To Perform List. About a month before the regular season opener, Smith has been officially cleared to pursue his ultimate goal.
A lot has changed since Smith spoke with a hoard of reporters in December of 2019. He was the subject of an ESPN documentary, "Project 11," which chronicled his unbelievable perseverance through 17 surgeries and countless doubts about his future -- both as a player and a person.
Less than four months after the documentary aired, Smith's surgical team cleared him for full football activity right before training camp. The Washington Football Team then placed him on the active/Physically Unable To Perform list to monitor his progress. Smith went on to complete his workout sessions without any setbacks.
The next steps for Smith, Rivera and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese said, were showing that he could protect himself and execute all of the football movements he worked to master over the past 16 years.
Those were the objectives when Smith worked with head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion and his training staff off to the side, and as Rivera watched Smith, he was pleased with his progress.
"We notice that he is getting stronger and stronger, His movements are all coming back," Rivera said Aug. 10. "But again, we don't want to put him on the field and expose him until the proper opportunity comes. We're trying to be smart. We're trying to be diligent in this situation because of Alex's circumstances. He's been tremendous right now and we expect him to continue to develop and grow. When the moment's right, at the appropriate time we'll make our decision."
That moment arrived Sunday morning. Having been moved to the active roster, Smith strapped on his helmet and joined his teammates in the indoor practice facility. No longer is Smith focused on just returning to the field; he's preparing to play.