By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — It’s early November 2009, North Iredell is taking part in at West Rowan, and NI operating again Matt Ramseur is sensible sufficient to see that a number of Falcons are swarming towards the soccer and the sweep that’s been known as goes nowhere.
So Ramseur stops in his tracks, cuts again and heads in the other way. He sees nothing however grass for one glad second, however then he abruptly is caught from behind by a defensive finish who weighs 245 kilos.
The tackler’s title is Chris Smith. Ramseur is smashed for a lack of 7 yards by Smith in what’s going to develop into a 55-6 West Rowan victory, another brick within the wall of what is going to develop into an epic 46-game profitable streak, the nation’s longest on the time.
Smith died at 31 on Monday, simply 14 years faraway from teen-age glory days at West Rowan. So much occurred to Smith in these 14 years. He starred on the College of Arkansas in school, persevered eight years on NFL rosters and follow squads, fathered three kids, befriended tons of and benefited 1000’s along with his generosity.
Smith was one of many particular ones to return by way of Rowan County. Off the sphere in addition to on it, he was particular. You can begin wanting now for somebody who didn’t like Smith, and 10 years from now you’ll nonetheless be looking out. He was a pleasure to be round, all the time the right teammate, humble and spirited. His big arms and big toes had been matched solely by a good bigger coronary heart.
On the sphere, Smith introduced uncommon explosiveness, pace and power to the sphere in highschool, and excellent coaches reminiscent of Steven Williams and the late Scott Younger helped him maximize his pure expertise and switch it into manufacturing.
“Chris has acquired what you’ll be able to’t coach,” Younger informed the Publish in 2009. “He’s acquired that God-given capacity and pace. He performs a lot sooner than different folks we watch.”
It’s a real story that Smith didn’t play soccer in any respect as a freshman at West.
His head was filled with hoop desires at that time, though his vertical development had stopped at 6-foot-1 and his capturing vary wasn’t for much longer than his physique. However he might rebound and defend and bang with the perfect. A person amongst boys. Mike Gurley, West Rowan’s basketball coach, dubbed Smith “Hercules” for apparent causes. When Smith would whip off his basketball warmups, his muscle mass would bulge, opponents eyes would widen and West followers would smile, realizing one other victory was about to be claimed.
Mates reminiscent of Ok.P. Parks acquired Smith on the soccer discipline when he was a sophomore. It wasn’t lengthy after Smith debuted on the gridiron that school coaches began figuring on the market was one other extremely recruitable participant in Mount Ulla.
The attention-popping stats and All-State accolades piled up. As a highschool junior, Smith racked up 28 sacks.
He drew computerized double-teams as a senior. His sacks dropped to 16.5, however Smith grinned as teammates reminiscent of Eli Goodson terrorized West’s opponents. West saved rolling, so Smith was content material.
As a senior within the fall of 2009, Smith loved one of the crucial highly effective conclusions to a highschool profession anybody from Rowan County has ever had. He was defensive MVP of the 3A state championship sport, adopted by defensive MVP honors within the Shrine Bowl, the place Parks, Smith and their North Carolina teammates beat South Carolina 24-14. Smith had eight tackles, two sacks and scooped up a fumble and rumbled 67 yards for a landing.
Smith was a three-star recruit who drew broad school curiosity. He was ranked among the many nation’s prime 40 defensive ends. He had the abilities, the grades and the persona. He was the Jalon Walker of his period. He performed the drums for his church and stated and did all the correct issues. Arkansas needed Smith badly and handled him like a king when he visited.
Smith needed Arkansas. Sure. it was far-off, nevertheless it was the SEC, and he needed to see if he might play in opposition to the perfect.
Smith didn’t redshirt at Arkansas. The Razorbacks wanted him for depth instantly. He performed a bit as a freshman, saved working, and performed extra as a sophomore. By his junior yr he was a standout. He totaled 18 sacks his final two seasons, made second group All-SEC as a senior and earned the total consideration of NFL scouts. After he ran a 4.71 40 on the 2014 NFL Mix, there was little question he’d be drafted.
There was discuss of Smith going as early because the second spherical, however he lasted till the fifth spherical when the Jacksonville Jaguars made him the 159th decide.
Smith didn’t complain about it. He was grateful to be picked wherever and by anyone. He was grateful for a signing bonus of $187,252 and grateful for a contact that paid him a bit over $600,00 yearly for his first 4 seasons within the NFL. These are modest numbers within the fashionable NFL, however to Smith he’d hit the lottery. He was being paid to play soccer.
Smith bulked as much as 266 kilos for the NFL, however he nonetheless was one thing of a tweener. He was by no means perceived as an every-down linemen who might defend the run and was pigeonholed as a “Leo,” a pass-rush specialist to be employed on third-and-long. Yearly Jacksonville would speak about an expanded function for Smith, nevertheless it by no means occurred.
Nonetheless, every season, Smith labored at his craft to get higher, strived to seek out methods to get on the sphere extra. Every preseason he optimistically talked about doubling his sacks complete. Annually the Jaguars introduced in additional guys to play forward of him. He embraced every of these new Jaguars as a buddy, as a brother, did every thing he might to assist them. That’s who he was.
He performed in 19 video games for the Jaguars.
He was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017 (for a seventh-round draft decide) and acquired his first critical likelihood to play with the Bengals.
He confirmed sufficient in Cincinnati that he hit the jackpot when he grew to become a free agent. In March 2018, the Cleveland Browns provided him a $12 million contract for 3 seasons, with a $3,500,000 signing bonus. Smith couldn’t say no to that.
His time in Cleveland included the tragic loss of life of his girlfriend in 2019. She was struck by a car after Smith’s automotive was parked on the facet of the freeway with a tire challenge.
Smith bounced across the NFL for some time after he was waived by the Browns in December 2019.
He was elated when the Carolina Panthers signed him, however he by no means was elevated from the follow squad to sport motion.
Subsequent got here a taking part in stint with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020 and 2021 pit stops on the follow squads of the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans.
He was out of soccer in 2022, however he launched a comeback in March of this yr when he signed with the XFL’s Seattle Sea Dragons.
He was a reserve defensive finish for the Sea Dragons and had made 5 tackles whereas showing in 5 video games.
“Chris was a robust presence within the locker room,” the XFL group acknowledged in a press launch. “Beloved and admired by his teammates and the teaching workers. Our ideas and prayers exit to his whole household at this tough time.
Smith’s NFL profession – eight seasons, 72 video games ( two begins), 80 tackles with 12 for loss, 11 sacks, 26 quarterback hits, six cross deflections and three pressured fumbles — was noteworthy, however his contributions had been far larger in the neighborhood and within the locker room.
Those that had been NFL teammates of Smith had been emotional on Twitter after his loss of life was introduced on Monday.
Mentioned quarterback Baker Mayfield, who performed with Smith in Cleveland: “To know Chris was to like him. Heaven acquired an excellent one. We’ll always remember you and we’ll all the time miss you. RIP Chris.”
What Smith did off the sphere domestically was praiseworthy.
In 2018, Smith donated $40,000 to Rowan-Salisbury student-athletes and $5,000 to the Essie Mae Kiser Foxx constitution college in East Spencer. He didn’t simply donate to West Rowan. He donated to all of West’s neighbors and rivals.
It was Smith whose donation acquired the Rowan County Soccer Jamboree — the annual soccer scrimmage that features all of the Rowan County squads — off the bottom.
Smith wore jersey numbers 98, 94, 50 and 92 throughout his NFL journey, however he had gone again to sporting his acquainted No. 42 for the Sea Dragons.
That’s the jersey quantity Smith wore when he was simply getting began, the quantity that’s retired in his honor at West Rowan.
“Chris was a greater particular person than he was a participant,” West head coach Louis Kraft stated. “The impression he had on these round him can be remembered eternally.”
No explanation for loss of life has been disclosed right now.