Michigan State reinstates Smoker after suspension

Updated: August 13, 2003, 9:29 PM ET

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker, who was suspended for the final five games of last season because of a substance-abuse problem, has been reinstated to the team.

New coach John L. Smith told Smoker and the team of his decision Monday, and announced it publicly Wednesday.

"I'm grateful he gave me this opportunity," Smoker said. "When I decided to stay here, I didn't know exactly what was going to happen. He gave me this opportunity and I'm going to make the most of it."

Smith said Smoker has an opportunity to compete for the starting job, a privilege he didn't have while practicing in preseason camp over the past week and during spring drills. The senior has started 24 games and thrown for 5,537 yards with 40 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.

Smith said if Smoker is better than Damon Dowdell or Drew Stanton during practice, he will start in the opening game on Aug. 30 at home against Western Michigan. Smith said he would not force Smoker to sit out a game -- or not start -- as further punishment for his misdeeds.

"If he's the guy, he's the guy," Smith said.

There were high expectations for Smoker and the Spartans last season, but the standout quarterback had problems off the field and the team fell apart on it.

The Spartans were ranked 15th after a 2-0 start, but lost six of their next seven games and were 2-6 in the Big Ten and 4-8 overall -- their worst record since 1991.

Then-coach Bobby Williams was fired with three games left in the season, and Smith was hired away from Louisville in December.

"That's something I used to think about," Smoker said of his role in the team's collapse. "I don't think about it too much anymore."

Smoker threw 13 TD passes and 10 interceptions last year, one season after throwing 21 TDs and just eight interceptions as a sophomore.

He was suspended from the team last year for violating team rules and 10 days later, his family announced he was seeking treatment for a substance-abuse problem.

Smoker said he is not in an inpatient program, but added that his recovery is ongoing and he has changed his lifestyle.

"You've got to make a lot of different decisions," he said. "You can't go to the places you used to go, certain spots, bars. You can't do certain things that college students do on a regular basis, and I used to do.

"It's not easy, especially in a college environment."

Smith said he has a tighter rein on Smoker than other players on the team.

"He's done with his treatment, but he has outpatient with me," Smith said.

Smoker would not reveal everything Smith made him do to earn reinstatement, but did said he volunteered at a homeless shelter in Lansing and did extra conditioning work. He understands some will disagree with the second chance he has been given.

"Everybody has their opinion and that's fine," Smoker said. "People don't get a chance to be in my shoes."

Jay Smoker said he is excited that his son's life has improved enough for him to earn a spot back on the team.

"It's a good story, but I wish it didn't have to happen in the first place," Jay Smoker said. "Hopefully everything will be OK, but we really won't know for years. He just has to take life and football one day at a time."

Michigan State also reinstated junior Robert Flagg, who was suspended before spring practice this year so he could focus on academics. Flagg plays the 'Bandit' position, which is a combination of a linebacker and defensive back.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index