After a highly successful professional career, it was no surprise that Emmitt Smith was a first-ballot selection for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February. Smith, whose football success began long before his days with the Dallas Cowboys, will be inducted on August 7, 2010, taking with him the NFL's all-time rushing yardage crown.
This initial segment of the "Countdown to Canton" series (inspired by BTB member DalaiLuke) will trace the beginnings of the Emmitt Smith legacy, from his days as a football-totin' tyke through his high school and college careers.
If you have not yet been to Canton, evidently, there is already a display of Smith there, featuring the NFL's all-time leading rusher with Jim Brown and Walter Payton. While walking through The Hall, you can only imagine how moved his family was to see Emmitt James Smith III pictured next to two of the game's all-time greats.
"My baby," said Mary Smith, pointing to the final mural. "That's my baby up there." Her baby, Emmitt James "Scooey" Smith III, placed with Brown and Payton in honor of his standing as the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
If anybody is to be considered a football prodigy, it would be little "Scooey", sometimes spelled "Scoey". Even as a youngster, Smith has always been about football.
Emmitt was 7 when he first began playing organized football. Even then, he was broad across the shoulders, heavy in the thighs and impossible to bring down. He was a prodigy to all who saw him. So imposing was he, Mary Smith was forced to tote her son's birth certificate to all of his games. It was the only way to lower raised eyebrows when her son ran over and around the others, which was just about every time he touched the ball.
When Emmitt Smith was 8, he was assigned to a league with 10-year-olds. When he was 11 and playing against 14-year-olds, he was already a muscular 145 pounds. He was forced to spend many pre-game hours in a sauna, sweating off the excess weight that would have made him too big for his youth-league football games. It was also that year he broke a would-be tackler's arm in a collision.
At age 12, Emmitt led his team to victory over a team from just over the state line in Mobile, Ala. The 16-year-olds were no match for Emmitt Smith.
Smith's dominance continued into high school for the Escambia Gators in his hometown of Pensacola, Florida. Recently, Escambia High honored Smith for an ESPN program that is set to air August 5. Obviously moved by his hometown's celebration of his career, Smith reciprocated the honors with his gratitude.
"I look at (being inducted into the Hall of Fame) as an opportunity to thank so many people who have been inspirational in my life," Smith said. "A lot of it began right here in this city. This city has blessed me tremendously with the foundation I have."
Many of those Smith wanted to thank were in the room Thursday. From his parents, to former Escambia High coach Dwight Thomas, to 26 of his former high school teammates, everyone got a chance to share in Smith's moment.
"He's the toughest kid I've ever coached," Thomas told the audience. "I've coached a lot of bigger, faster and stronger (players) but none as tough."
It can be argued that Smith is one of the better high school athletes in history.
Emmitt Smith (Escambia High, Pensacola, Fla.): Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, started being great early, and he still holds the national high school record of 45 100-yard rushing games.
The Escambia running back ran for 8,804 yards (third highest total in prep football history) and 106 TDs in his high school career, averaging more than eight yards a carry in his soph, junior and senior years.
Averaging well over 2,000 yards per season for the Gators set Smith atop USAToday's All-USA Offensive Player list for high schoolers.
In 2001, USA Today released its 20th Anniversary All-USA Team. It's a list of who's who in football, one that includes Randy Moss ('94), Orlando Pace ('93), Derrick Brooks ('90), Charles Woodson ('94) and Rod Woodson ('82).
Emmitt Smith's high school success led him to the University of Florida in 1987. A Gator again, Smith would set the school's freshman record for rushing with 1,341 yards. Below, at the 3:00 mark, is Emmitt Smith's first carry for Florida--ironically, in a game against Michael Irvin's Miami Hurricanes.
Still the second all-time leading rusher for the Gators, Smith was elected into the 2006 College Football Hall of Fame.
An elite running back with all-worldly talent on both collegiate and professional levels, Smith ran to national prominence in 1987, and by 1989, was a
A unanimous First Team All-America selection, Smith finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1989 and ninth in 1987. A three-time First Team All-Southeastern Conference pick, he was named SEC Player of the Year in 1989 and Freshman of the Year in 1987.
A member of the UF Ring of Honor and the Team of the Century, Smith broke 58 school records en route to rushing for 3,928 yards and 36 touchdowns in only three seasons. In his award-laden junior year, he rushed for 1,599 yards and 16 scores.
Emmitt wasn't known for his speed, yet he was still a home-run hitter.
Winners expect to win; so when they lose, they take it extremely hard. As Cowboys fans, we all know how much heart Emmitt has.
Only Emmitt can make a 19-yard touchdown run look easy.
Many players have had successful high school careers. Many have followed those up with successful college careers, as well. But few have continued their success throughout all three levels of the game, like Emmitt Smith did.
Next in this series, we'll relive how Emmitt Smith became a Dallas Cowboy.