The story of Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith is one full of ups and downs which make for an incredible ride. In Part 1 of our 4-part series on the football career of Emmitt Smith, the focus will be on his high school playing days and before.
Growing up in the Panhandle of Florida in Pensacola, Smith realized at an early age that he had a special talent when it came to playing football. He, just like many other young athletes, had big dreams of one day making a career out of the game he loved so much and still loves to this day. Smith knew that it wouldn’t be an easy road and was prepared to work hard to make his dream a reality.
“I know I had some talent that could definitely take me a long way,” Smith said. “How far it would take me was a process that we all as athletes must go through in our minds and know that we have the big picture in our heads but, physically, we have to go through the process to get there.”
Smith played football at Escambia High School from 1982-1986 where he rushed for, a then Florida state record, of 8,804 yards, nearly 2,200 yards per season. While that accomplishment was very significant, Smith said, it wasn’t his most memorable moment from his playing days at Escambia. That title is reserved for a Friday Night Showdown at the beginning of the 1985 season when the defending class 4A state champs, the Escambia High Gators, took on the defending class 5A state champs, the Woodham High Titans.
“It was a huge game, about 15,000 to 20,000 people were there with standing room only and we ended up winning the game on a last second 51-yard field goal,” Smith said.
After winning another state championship his junior year, Smith went in to his senior year with huge expectations for himself and his team while also knowing he would have to a lot of attention on him as he was considered one of the top high school running backs in the nation. With all of the success he had already achieved through his first three years of high school, there were still recruiting analysts who believed he couldn’t effectively play at the next level. One analyst even coined Smith as a “lugger, not a runner” and all but guaranteed Smith would fail. Even though he was aware of the critics, Smith never let their opinions effect the way he played and stayed confident in his abilities.
“I didn’t believe anything that they said because all of my life I was forced to play at a higher level due to my size,” Smith said. “I’ve had success at every level of football I ever played and to hear him call me a “lugger” was his opinion and his opinion doesn’t affect the way that I play the game.”
After his senior season, Smith had to make the decision on where he would attend to play college football. Even though he held offers from every school in the nation, Smith said his decision was an easy one and he ultimately decided he would play college football for his favorite childhood team, the Florida Gators.
“I’ve always thought once a Gator always a Gator,” Smith said. “Florida was my favorite team in the state and if I would have left the state I would have probably went to Auburn University but, I was a Gator at heart and still am to this day.”
Smith was ready to begin living that dream of taking his game to the next level as he headed down to Gainesville to play hard for head coach Galen Hall and the Florida Gators. Be watching for Part 2 of the series next week as the focus turns to Smith’s college career and all of his accomplishments at the University of Florida.