By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
After his All-American career at Missouri Southern, Rod Smith became the most productive free agent signee in National Football League history.
He signed with the Denver Broncos in 1994, spent one season on the practice squad and then played 14 seasons before a hip injury forced him to retire.
He developed into the most prolific receiver in Bronco history, and he ranks 15th in the NFL in career receptions (849) and 16th in career yards (11,389). He was inducted into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame on Sept. 23, 2012.
Smith, the MIAA Offensive Player of the Year as a junior in 1991, is one of 12 Missouri Southern players who later signed with an NFL team.
Only two of them were drafted — offensive tackle Allen Barbre by the Green Bay Packers in the fourth round in 2007 and defensive tackle Richard Jordan by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round in 1997.
Barbre, who prepped at East Newton, spent three seasons with the Packers before being released. He also spent time with the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks.
Barbre played both guard and tackle for the Packers, and was the starter at right tackle in 2009 before losing that job in midseason.
Jordan, who won or shared MIAA Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1995 and 1996, played four years for the Detroit Lions. He led the team with 21 special teams tackles in his second year in 1998. He also made three starts late in the season and either led or shared the team lead in tackles all three years.
He later signed with the Chiefs before an injury forced him to retire.
Thrash was a football and track standout at Missouri Southern. Then like Smith, Thrash turned a free agent contract into a long pro career.
He signed originally with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997 but was cut before training camp began. He signed with Washington in July and returned a kickoff for a touchdown in his first exhibition game.
He played a total of nine years in two stints with the Redskins and one with the Eagles. His NFL totals: 260 catches for 3,307 yards and 18 touchdowns plus 2,756 yards on 120 kickoff returns.
Joyce, from Knox County High School in northeast Missouri, came to Missouri Southern from Highland Community College where he played football, basketball and baseball.
With the Lions, Joyce led the NAIA in punting, averaging 43.4 yards on 51 kicks. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1976 and averaged 37 yards on 86 punts in 18 games over two seasons. He also played tight end.
He died of brain cancer on June 17, 2011, less than a year after his son Brandon, who played offensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, was murdered during a robbery in the St. Louis area on Christmas Eve 2010.
Loyd, a native of Joplin, completed 104 of 203 passes for 1,314 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions for the Lions in 1978.
He spent two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and made one start among five appearances in the 1980 campaign.
Harrell led the Lions with five interceptions in the 1980 season.
He signed as a free agent with the Chiefs but was released on the final preseason cut.
Brown, an offensive tackle, was a letterman for the Lions in 1982 and signed as a free agent with the Cardinals in 1984.
Billy Jack Smith
Smith was a mainstay at offensive tackle for the Lions from 1980-82 before signing a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Raiders.
Running back Noirfalise led the Lions in rushing every season from 1981 through 1984, and his 3,864 yards and 42 touchdowns on the ground are still school records. He signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons in 1985.
Kaaiohelo, a fullback, played at Arkansas before transferring to MSSU for his final two seasons in 1993 and 1994.
He signed as a free agent with the Houston Oilers in 1995 and played two seasons for the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe from 1996-97. The Claymores won the World Bowl Championship in 1996, and Kaaiohelo was voted team captain for 1997. Later that year he signed as a free agent with the Indianapolis Colts.
Kaaiohelo is now strength and conditioning coach at Rice University.
Tosaw played in the offensive line for the Lions in 1997-99.
He signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills in 2000 and also played for the Chicago Rush in the Arena Football League and Wichita Stealth in AFL2. He started every game he was on the Stealth roster.