NFL

Sammie Smith’s Long Road to a College Degree Detoured Though the NFL and Prison

It may have taken longer than expected – 35 years to be exact – but former Miami Dolphins running back Sammie Smith is a college graduate. Smith, despite the huge black mark on his resume, is a stand-up guy. His life has included time in the National Football League and seven years in federal prison, but now time to say he has that college degree at the age of 52.

Sammie Smith’s football life

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Sammie Smith played four years of college football at Florida State. He was a 6-foot-2, 226-pound running back who made a name for himself with a very impressive junior season with the Seminoles. In 10 games, Smith rushed for 1,230 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season. He also hauled in a pair of touchdown passes.

Even after a mediocre senior year where he rushed for 577 yards and four touchdowns in 108 attempts, Smith’s size and speed had the attention of NFL Scouts. The Miami Dolphins made sure he remained in Florida by drafting him in the first round with the ninth overall pick in a stacked 1989 NFL draft. Players selected in front of Smith that year included Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, and Deion Sanders.

Smith struggled as a pro. His best season with the Dolphins came in his second year when he played in all 16 games and rushed for 831 yards and eight touchdowns. Smith was known for fumbling the ball and in 1991, his third season, he had just 297 rushing yards in 12 games. He was traded to the Denver Broncos for the 1992 season and he was cut by the team after playing in three games.

Smith’s prison sentence

On Sept. 14, 1996, Sammie Smith was arrested on cocaine charges. He didn’t fight the charges. He pleaded guilty and took full responsibility for what happened. “I want to plead guilty because I participated and I am guilty of the charges,” Smith told U.S. District Judge Patricia Fawsett in Orlando, according to The Sun-Sentinel.

Smith spent seven years in federal prison. He struggled at first, but as time went on, he found himself. He said he also found God which helped him turn his life around. “I got involved with some friends that were involved in shady stuff,” Smith told The Oxford Eagle. “It certainly wasn’t how I was raised and how I was brought up. … That first night, it was like, ‘What have I done? How have I allowed something like this to happen?’

When Smith was released from prison in 2003, he began working for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a speaker, telling his story all across Florida. In 2004, Smith and his wife Shalonda founded Kingdom Impact Sports, a place for local kids to work out. Smith acted as a role model and became a positive influence with them.

Smith becomes a college graduate

When Sammie Smith left Florida State for the NFL, he was 24 credits shy of graduating. During one of Smith’s speaking engagements, a businessman from Mississippi, an Ole Miss alum, asked Smith if he could tell his story at an event in Oxford, Mississippi. That eventually led to a call from Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze to ask is Smith could help his players.

“I didn’t know anything about Ole Miss football,” Smith told the Sun-Sentinel in May. “I’m a Florida State guy. But it looked like the right situation. God was pulling me there.” Smith began taking classes in the fall at Ole Miss and finally earned his diploma.

Smith has been through it all. He remembers fumbling on the goal line for the second straight week for the Miami Dolphins with fans screaming “Sammie Sucks.” This was coming in the same year when his young son died from sudden infant death syndrome. “I was hurt,” he said regarding the chant. “It took me years — years, to get over that hurt.” Then came prison.

Sammie Smith could’ve shut down and quit. He bounced back. He’s a new man and he has the college diploma to prove it.