22 – Emmitt Smith, Florida Gators
24 – Emmitt Smith, Escambia Gators
Emmitt James Smith III was born the second of five children in a podunk town in the panhandle of Florida called Pensacola. “Scoey” started scooting about the football field while he was a young lad growing up in the Attucks Court projects of Pensacola. As an 8-year old, Scoey took his first carry in Pop Warner football to the house on a 70-yard scamper. Not bad for a kid that was too small and too slow to play Pop Warner! This slow, short tailback continued to amaze the masses at Salvation Army and Bellview until he caught the eye of coach Dwight Thomas at Escambia high school. Coach Thomas never considered starting a freshman, especially a small, slow one like Emmitt…until he saw the kid in action. Here in Pensacola, Emmitt is remembered for wearing orange and blue jersey #24 for the Escambia Gators, not #22. Coach Thomas’ gamble on the freshman paid out as Emmitt rushed for 106 touchdowns and 8,804 yards (second most yardage in the history of American high school football at the time) and led Escambia to back-to-back state championships in 1984 and 1985. He rushed for over 100 yards in 45 of the 49 games he started for Escambia and finished with a 7.8 yards per carry average. Smith was named the USA Today and Parade magazine high school player of the year for 1986. Despite the accolades, prominent scouts still chided him for being too small and too slow. Emmitt was heavily recruited by Pat Dye of Auburn (the other orange and blue), Bobby Bowden of Florida State (the other Florida college), and Tom Osborne of Nebraska. Thankfully, Emmitt elected to attend the University of Florida despite ongoing NCAA sanctions against the Gators. Under Galen Hall, Emmitt did not start his first two games as a Gator, but he exploded onto the scene with a 66-yard touchdown run, 109 yards total in 10 carries in week 2 and earned the starting position for week 3, where he pummeled SEC foe Alabama to the tune of 224 yards and 2 touchdowns for a Florida single-game record. Emmitt singlehandedly carried the team, since NCAA sanctions hurt the depth chart and the offense lacked other offensive weapons. Defenses keyed in on Emmitt and hampered him with injuries. Despite this obstacle, Emmitt left Florida owning 58 school records, made the All-SEC 1st team all three years, and was the SEC MVP and 1st team All-American in his final year. Not bad for a kid that was too small and too slow to be a successful running back. I hear that after the Dallas Cowboys drafted him with pick #17 in 1989, Emmitt did pretty well for himself in the pros.
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