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Former Seminole Sammie Smith Spreading the Word Through Camps, Ministry

Feb 21, 2011 – 10:30 AM
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Jim Henry

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Sammie Smith has zero complaints. He's enjoying each and every day and looking forward to, as he describes his second chance at life, bigger and better things.

Smith, now 43 and 25 years removed from his record-setting rushing performances at Florida State, is remarried with a young son and living in Mount Dora, Fla. His daughter from his first marriage is a registered nurse in Orlando following her studies at Florida A&M.

Smith continues to dabble in real estate, just waiting, like many in that business, for the housing market to rebound.

Smith also directs training camps for area youth, focusing on speed, strength and agility. Those were the qualities that helped him rush for 2,539 yards playing for Bobby Bowden and become the ninth overall section in the 1989 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins.

Yet, Smith is happiest when he talks of his ministry and the opportunities to make a difference in a person's life. Smith hopes to receive more of those opportunities as a motivational speaker, one who is proud to share his life-changing personal testimony and not afraid to admit his past mistakes.

Smith recently had two such experiences that excited and inspired him.

Smith was the keynote speaker at the FCA Breakfast at the Capital One Bowl in Orlando -- Alabama thumped Michigan State 49-7 on New Year's Day -- and he just recently spoke to the University of Georgia football team.

The Bulldogs are coached by former FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt. Richt's staff also has a Seminole flavor to it. John Eason, Dave Van Halanger and John Lilly help in either a coaching or support staff capacity after each spent years at FSU.

Georgia has had its share of problems on and off the field with defeats and player arrests, and Smith's message focused on challenging players to make the right decisions and the most of their opportunities. Smith knows all too well of what happens when one makes a wrong turn.

Smith served seven years in a Florida prison after being convicted in 1996 on two federal charges of possession and distribution of cocaine. He went from a hometown hero to a drug dealer.

"I wanted the kids to understand the opportunities that they have, playing the game that they love -- in my case playing for one of the best who has ever coached the game," Smith said.

"I wanted them to understand they are making a commitment to their university to become good citizens who are going to work hard, help their program and not become an embarrassment. Once they sign their name, the university has made its commitment and now it's their choice and responsibility to honor that commitment. I really want them to know it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and there are thousands of kids who would love to be in their shoes. I want them to treasure it and give their best effort, on and off the field."

Smith presents his message with traditional Christian values, ethics and life-guiding principles. Smith says he has been blessed despite the time he spent behind bars, saying he made bad decisions outside of God's presence.

"A lot of times we look at our adversity and, of course, we wish it had not happened," Smith explained.

"We also question why it happened and ask ourselves how we could allow something like that to happen. But ultimately God wants us to learn something from it. I realize now that had I not gone through the things I did, I would not have the testimony that I have today.

"I am thankful for it."

Smith has another important reason to be thankful, too.

Last summer in Tallahassee, Fla., flanked by Bowden and former assistant coaches Jim Gladden and Billy Sexton, Smith had his civil rights restored. Convicted felons in Florida lose their civil rights and cannot own a weapon or vote without a full or conditional pardon from the clemency board.

Then-Gov. Charlie Crist and the independently elected cabinet, sitting as the state Clemency Board, voted to restore Smith's rights following testimony from Smith, Bowden, several assistants and family members. Crist said Smith's testimony was compelling.

The Good Lord had to be smiling, too.

"Having to tell my son that I couldn't even vote because I had gotten in trouble was difficult," Smith said. "It was a blessing to have my rights restored. The choices I made put me in that position."

Smith is now in a good position.

He remains in touch with former FSU teammates Victor Floyd and Dayne Williams. He has connected with many others on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Smith was tickled and proud to read that former teammate Deion Sanders was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Smith is hopeful he can travel to Canton, Ohio, with his son this summer to watch the enshrinement and support Sanders.

"Deion's an awesome talent and an awesome friend," Smith said.

Smith also keeps a close eye on his beloved Seminoles and, like many, believes coach Jimbo Fisher has FSU again on the winning track.

Last month on National Signing Day, FSU loaded up with in-state talent that was reminiscent of the Seminoles' 1985 class that kick-started their unprecedented 14-year run of top five rankings and two national championships.

That class included top 10 first-round NFL picks, punctuated by Sanders, Smith, future NFL quarterback P.T. Willis and a handful of top offensive linemen.

Smith, who last attended a Seminole game two years ago, can't believe how much time has passed since his playing days in Doak Campbell Stadium.

Smith's son had an opportunity to watch highlights of his father's days at FSU on a DVD that helped serve as Smith's introduction at the FCA breakfast at the Capital One Bowl.

Smith laughed at the hairstyles and clothes from the late 1980s, while his son, who plays youth football, repeatedly replayed his father's 95-yard touchdown run against Furman. While the NFL was never easy for Smith, he's still considered one of the best running backs to wear Garnet and Gold.

"I was talking with Victor (Floyd) a few nights ago and we both mentioned how it just seems like it was only a few years ago we were in Tallahassee," Smith said. "When I went back I didn't realize that Pensacola Street dead-ends the way it does now into the stadium; you get back there and you have to get your bearings straight to know where you are at."

Smith knows exactly where he's at in life, thanks to God's guidance and the support of his family and friends. (He lives only a few miles from his parents' home in Central Florida, and they share a prayer service each Sunday night). Smith's testimony should resonate with youth and athletes, and he's hopeful it inspires them to renew their commitment to serve the Lord.

Smith, polite and cheerful, chuckled and admitted he shared a common bond with the Georgia players during their hour-long meeting: Everyone in the room disliked the Florida Gators.

"It's just a matter of are we willing to search, seek and find what God wants us to learn from our experiences," Smith said, "and what we get out of them, instead of walling in them and complaining all the time."
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