Derron Smith should have escaped when he had the chance.
If the Fresno State football star would have left after his junior season, he'd probably be on an NFL roster today, making decent coin playing on Sundays and spending his bye week visiting Bulldog Stadium as an honored guest.
You know, just like Davante Adams, Smith's former teammate and suddenly lovable Packers rookie who was back in town Saturday night to wave to the adoring crowd during the Fresno State-Wyoming game.
Instead, Smith came back for his senior year, which is noble in academic terms, but of no football comfort as he hemorrhages through a lost Fresno State season where the hopeful future lies beyond the frame of his own college eligibility.
So, if you want to feel sad for anybody in this Fresno State football season, start with Smith. He's the short-timer lost in a long-term rebuilding project.
Smith's the one who could have gone to the NFL a year early like Adams did, but he went with the senior-year return behind Curtain No. 2. He now spends his Saturdays with a front-porch view of lessers like Wyoming sticking it to his Bulldogs.
Smith deserves to be remembered for more than this year's unspeakable losses and consolation-prize victories. He ought to be able to leave with the dignity of a winning season.
Guys like Adams and Derek Carr were sent off last season with two straight conference titles and a run into BCS contention, forever tethered to the affection of an entire fan base. Carr left because he was out of eligibility; Adams left early because he knew enough to get out while the going was still going good.
Smith stayed for the sake of staying, and is giving this all he's got. Problem is, there's simply not even Smith to go around the room with a thousand leaks.
He entered the season with the most interceptions of any returning college players. He has none this year, because why throw near Smith when the other 10 defensive options are so much more exploitable?
Still, you should have seen Smith break to the sideline to bust up a deep pass on Wyoming's opening drive. One play later, he took a punt return 52 yards to the Cowboys 8 -- field position so good that not even the Fresno State offense could keep from scoring a touchdown for a 7-0 lead.
Smith tried to take over the game. Too bad so many of his well-intentioned teammates kept getting in the way.
When Cowboys running back Brian Hill split the defense for a 66-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, all Smith could do was chase him helplessly from behind, knowing full well he wasn't the one who blew the gap assignment in the first place.
Smith is trying to keep this team together, even as the Bulldogs scrap their 2014 aspirations to build a better 2015. That's why freshman quarterback Zack Greenlee was making his first start Saturday. That's why junior running back Marteze Waller is starting ahead of senior Josh Quezada now, and why three other freshman are in the starting lineup.
Fresno State's season is over, and the thousands of empty seats Saturday know it. Too bad Smith still has three more games left to play before his next season -- in the NFL -- can begin.
And not a year too soon.