DeVonta Smith was one of the most talked-about college football prospects heading into the 2021 NFL draft. The undersized wide receiver out of Alabama has all the skills in the world but lacks in size. It’s a reputation that dates back to Smith’s high school days. Fortunately for him and football fans, a trip to the barber helped get him where he is today.
DeVonta Smith’s trip to the barbershop
In high school, DeVonta Smith was barely big enough to play basketball, let alone football. According to a profile in GQ, his diminutive stature and size caused an injury that nearly ended his athletic career before it even began. A trip to the barber, however, changed everything. His former barber, Vincent Sanders, spoke with GQ about how he got the young Smith to stay on the path and work himself into football shape.
But DeVonta was 120 pounds in high school, and barely over 5’8″; after he broke his collarbone playing football in sophomore year, he made a logical choice. “He was like, ‘S***, f*** this s***'” his barber and mentor, Vincent Sanders, told me. Sanders kept reinforcing that football was DeVonta’s path. “Nah, I’m outta here cuh,” DeVonta shot back. He stopped going to football practice — “catch me on the hardwoods,” he’d tell folks. But, Sanders wouldn’t quit. “Nah, bro,” he’d say. “We can do this. I’m gonna make you great.”
According to Sanders, he worked with Smith to establish a routine that allowed him to use his natural quickness while building up enough muscle to avoid more mishaps such as this. The plan was relatively simple. They’d try to add 12 pounds of muscle a year to get him ready for his next step at college.
It worked, and before long, Smith was playing for Nick Saban’s legendary program as one of the best wide receivers in the country.
Smith goes to Alabama
According to Sports Reference, Smith stayed on the bench for much of his first year. With just eight receptions on the year, he took the time to bulk up, even more, blossoming up to 170 pounds as he improved his skillset every year. After a better, albeit unspectacular sophomore season with the school where he received nearly 700 yards for six touchdowns, he finally had his breakout year in 2019.
That year, behind the arms of Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones, Smith became a regular part of the team’s offense. He received over 1,2000 yards for 14 touchdowns. With Tagovailoa off to the NFL, however, Jones helped smith reach yet another level just in time for the NFL draft. He received a career-best 1,856 yards for 23 touchdowns.
It was clear that Smith was ready for the NFL, but with some uncertainty about his size, many wondered if teams would think twice before taking the plunge on a talented yet undersized prospect like him.
DeVonta Smith joins the Philadelphia Eagles to the NFL
With the 10th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Smith. He was one of several members of the Crimson Tide to get drafted into the league this year alongside Jones and Najee Harris.
Speaking with GQ, Harris sees the talk about his size as overblown and overrated. After all, players with ideal size have made it to the NFL and failed. Skill is all that matters, and Harris told GQ that Smith’s heart makes up for any hindrance that his size may cause going into the NFL. “He’s lined up against everybody, all the top dudes, and is exposing them. The best defensive backs out there. He’s one of the hardest players I’ve ever played with,” the running back said.
Now, Smith should have an ample opportunity to show exactly why he belongs in the NFL despite what the naysayers may say. Regardless of what happens, however, Smith’s journey to get there shows that people aren’t defined by their size when it comes to sports. While it certainly helps, a good work ethic goes a long way in getting these athletes to where they need to be.