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Growing Up Fast
Rick Telander
November 16, 1987
Hopes were high for Florida's Emmitt Smith and Ohio State's Carlos Snow. One has run to daylight, the other hasn't shone
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November 16, 1987

Growing Up Fast

Hopes were high for Florida's Emmitt Smith and Ohio State's Carlos Snow. One has run to daylight, the other hasn't shone

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Smith nods solemnly. "If you want to get through a hole bad enough," he says, "you'll get through it."

Escambia High was a football zero when Smith arrived there as a freshman. The Gators hadn't had a winning team in 21 years. According to coach Dwight Thomas, who arrived at the same time Smith did, Escambia had "the most negative, apathetic, losing environment I've ever been in, ever."

Thomas had heard that a youngster with great potential would be attending Escambia, and he recalls clearly his first meeting with the 14-year-old Smith. "All the other kids were acting like kids, fooling around, taking nothing seriously," says Thomas. "Then a boy in neat, pressed clothes walks up to me and shakes my hand. 'Hi, Coach Thomas,' he said. 'I'm Emmitt.' So confident, so gracious. I have three children, and I just hope they can be like him. And I don't mean anything about athletics."

Smith led Escambia to a four-year record of 42 wins and seven losses, and Thomas has no patience with those who questioned Smith's chances of success at a higher level. "Everybody talks about his great vision on the field," he says. "But where his success really comes from is how he sees himself. He's not searching for his identity, like so many kids. He's at ease. In many games he only reached single digits in carries. I'd take him out because we were so far ahead, and he'd be the biggest cheerleader on the bench. If he'd played for a lot of coaches, he would have broken Ken Hall's record for the most yards ever by a high school kid. But he didn't care about any of that."

Snow watches intently as Smith breaks tackles and slithers for tough yards against a ferocious Auburn defense. "Wow," he says.

Florida will lose 29-6 and slip to 5-3, and Smith will gain just 72 yards in 21 carries, his first non-100-yard game as a starter since his sophomore year at Escambia. Still, he made yards when no one else could have.

"Emmitt is very shifty," says Snow. "He can see things before they happen. He's very smooth, not hard. Look at him. What would I like that he has? I'd like to carry the ball."

Snow asks Ann and Jess Anderson, Kim's parents, what time it is. Ten o'clock.

"I have curfew at 11:30," he says solemnly. "If you're late, you have to run Buckeye Reminders—sprints where you drop every five yards for a push-up. After 50 yards your arms are dead. I think I'd better go."

Carlos leaves to drive back to campus. After he is gone, Ann, a diehard Ohio State fan, shakes her head and says, "Football players are under a lot of pressure, and we put it on them. Especially in a place that bleeds red and gray." She smiles at this, sensing the irony of her words.

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