Dallas Cowboys’ Emmitt Smith: From Pensacola to Canton Part I

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emmitt_headshot_0On May 15 1969, Emmitt James Smith III was born to Mary and Emmit J. Smith Jr. in Pensacola Florida. His name was close to being Scoey, after a popular stand-up comedian, Scoey Mitchell, at the time. Wanting to keep all of her son’s names starting with the letter “E”, she decided on Emmit. His family calls him Scoey to this very day. Emmitt Smith is the second of five children, and he’s the oldest son. Mary Smith insists that she knew she was having a boy by the way he kicked. People were amazed they could actually see him kicking and thrashing about in her belly. Intrigued by the game of football since infancy, she remembers the only way to keep him calm was to give him a bottle in his swing, place him in front of the television, and find a football game. It was the only way to keep him quiet.

Mary Smith also remembers how Emmitt would run all over the house! He received the scar on his forehead crashing into the wall. He tied a towel around his neck and jumped off the couch thinking he was Superman. As he got older, he loved playing the game he seemed to studying in that swing as he watched football on the television. Of course, he preferred tackle to the gentler two-hand touch. Once Emmitt was old enough to start playing, he did not want his mother to know he was playing tackle. Emmitt Smith concealed his rough style of play from his mother by wearing his clothes inside out when he played. Emmit II remembers how they used to wonder how Emmitt III stayed so clean when all the other kids’ clothes were so filthy.

The First Steps on the Field

pop warnerEmmitt Smith started playing organized football when he was 7 years old. Many who saw him play, thought he was a football prodigy. He was tall enough, but he was a bit too heavy for his age group. He wore a plastic sweat suit before games to help him lose weight. Having broad shoulders and thick thighs, he was always bigger than the kids playing in his age group. Because of his size and the way he ran over the other kids, Mary Smith would always have Emmitt’s birth certificate on hand to answer questions about his age. At the age of eight, he played Pop Warner football with the 10 year olds. The following year, he played against 14 year olds. Emmitt smith was already 145 pounds of solid muscle at the age of 11. He would sweat off the extra weight in a sauna so he could play in the youth league games. Being so strong and well built, he broke the arm of a tackler in a collision when he was running the ball.

Emmitt Smith would help coach in the youth league when he was in the 8th grade. He could no longer sweat off his excessive weight to play. To stay in shape, he led his middle school to the city championship in basketball. The apple does not fall too far from the tree: Emmit II played for Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola during the 60s; he played fullback and linebacker at 185 pounds (I will have more on this in another article). He knew his son was something special with the football in his hands. Emmitt Smith’s athletic ability was so good that his high school coach, Dwight Thomas, would visit him at Brownsville Middle School to ensure Emmitt was coming to Escambia High School.

emmitt hs2Let the Records Fall Where They May

Escambia High School‘s last winning season was 23 years before Emmitt Smith’s arrival. They were also getting a new coach. Emmitt was ready for the challenge. He also added an extra “T” to his name to distinguish between himself and the two great men of the same name. Emmitt carried the team on his shoulders. He rushed for over 1,525 yards and 19 touchdowns his freshman year. Emmitt Smith eclipsed those totals the following year en route to the school’s first ever state championship. He rushed for over 2,200 yards with 26 touchdowns. Craving that sweet taste of victory, Emmitt powered the team to another state championship by rushing for over 2,900 yards with 33 touchdowns his junior year. His senior year on the field was not as grand as the previous two years, but you can’t knock a person who ran for over 1,900 yards and 28 touchdowns! Emmitt Smith finished his high school football career with 8,804 rushing yards, which was only second to Ken Hall (11,232) at the time and currently ranks number 16. Emmitt Smith racked up rushing yards and awards during his senior year at Escambia High School. He was named the USA Today and Parade Magazine High School Player of the Year in 1986. Most of Emmitt’s high school records stood the test of time and were not broken until 2012 by Derrick Tyson. Emmitt’s high school coach explained Escambia’s offensive success:

“We won the state championship doing three things. We handed the ball to Emmitt, we pitched the ball to Emmitt, and we threw the ball to Emmitt.”

emmitt youngEmmitt Smith was highly recruited during his senior year. Mary Smith took control and told the recruiters Emmitt could only talk to or visit on Sundays. The other days of the week, he was free to be just plain old Scoey. When it was time to make his choice, he called the media to the school. They were surprised to find about a dozen other teammates of Emmitt there to make their announcement. Always about team first, Emmitt wanted to share the spotlight with some of his less talked about teammates.

“I thought it would be nice to spread the limelight around. I wanted to give some guys a day to remember.”

Gator High School to Gator College

Emmitt Smith U of FlaWith visits from Florida State’s Bobby Bowden and other top schools, Emmitt Smith also received offers from historically black colleges (HBCU) like Frisk and Florida A&M University. He chose to attend the University of Florida because it was closer to home. Before he left for college, his grandfather, Emmitt Sr, or Big Smith, told him:

“Never forget who you are, what name you carry, and your raising. Do what you are suppose to do and to think. Say a silent prayer before you do anything”.

When he arrived at the University of Florida, Emmitt Smith was no longer the biggest kid on the team. The words of one “expert” recruiter would power Emmitt’s desire to be the best running back in the SEC and University of Florida history. The recruiter, Max Emfingers’ evaluation of Emmitt states:

“Emmitt Smith is a lugger, not a runner. He is not fast. He can’t get around the corner. When he falls flat on his face, remember where you heard it first.”

Well let’s just say if you ever want to know what crow tastes like, just ask Mr. Emfinger. Named national Freshman Player of the Year, he finished 9th in the Heisman Trophy voting. As a freshman, Emmitt had 1,341 yards rushing (led the SEC) and 13 touchdowns. He averaged 121.9 yards per game. Early in the season, Emmitt celebrated a touchdown by doing a little dance in the end-zone while his father was in attendance. Emmitt II told his son,

“We’ll have NONE of that. Show a little class. Act like you’ve been there before”.

That was the last time Emmitt Smith danced after scoring. He capped the season off by delivering an All-American Bowl win over the University of Emmitt-GatorsIllinois 14-10. Emmitt carried the ball 28 times for 159 yards, including a 55 yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage. Although he was injured for most of his sophomore year, he still gained 988 yards and scored 9 touchdowns while averaging 145.4 yards per game. The Gators lost in the Aloha Bowl against a UCLA team led by Troy Aikman 20-16. Emmitt had 17 carries for 128 yards.

Firing on all cylinders, Emmitt Smith ran like a mad man his junior year: he ran for 1,599 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. He finished 7th in the Heisman voting and was named to the First Team All-American squad. He averaged 145.4 yards a game. The next year would bring changes to Gainesville. Steve Spurrier was named the new head coach and the University of Florida football program was under an NCAA investigation. The bright spot was that the NFL expanded the draft to include juniors. In addition, everyone knew Steve Spurrier’s team would feature a ‘pass-first’ offense.

emmitt flaEmmitt Smith left the University of Florida holding many records, some he still holds: Rushing yards in a season (1,599), in a game (316), in a game by a freshman (244) and a junior (316); Rushing attempts in a season (284), in a game by a freshman (39) and a sophomore (28). There are too many more to name here. Click here to see all the Florida Gators football records. Emmitt had shown there was not much more for him to learn in college. It was only logical for Emmitt Smith to graduate to the NFL. The run to Canton was afoot.

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  • Erasmus

    In my worldview, the universe is ruled by Dallas Cowboys. Emmitt is the Dallas equivalent to Zeus. Great Post. You inspired me to double my sacrifices to the Cowboy Gods this week. Thank you.

    • cjwright

      Erasmus That must mean that Tony Romo is Odin.

    • Balou71

      Erasmus Then Michael Irvin is Hermes and Troy Aikman is Ares!! LOL

      • Football Mensa

        In my world Aikman is Aikman and Emmitt is Emmitt and so on…

  • cowboys_24_7_365

    Good article! If you are a long time Boys fan this piece has to make your heart feel good!! Good job!

    • Balou71

      cowboys_24_7_365 Thanks!!! It is a labor of love.

  • Football Mensa

    Emmitt and Michael Irvin are proof the combine is useless. It’s not how fast you run in skin tight underwear. It’s how fast you run when someone is chasing you.
    Good job Kevin.

    • Balou71

      Football Mensa Thanks a lot!!! It was interesting doing research on this great man!