July 23, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Back in the summer of 2010, DeAndre Smelter came to a fork in the road.
College baseball or college football.
He chose to follow the baseball path, as a pitcher.
Two years later, Smelter has gotten the rare opportunity to try the other road and see where it leads. Beginning August 1, he will be part of the Georgia Tech Football team, trying to make the team as a wide receiver, when summer camp begins.
While he will still play baseball, he felt compelled to try his hand — actually his hands — on the gridiron in 2013.
“I think it’s just something that I needed to do,” Smelter said. “I didn’t want to go through college having regrets — ‘I should’ve done this’ or ‘I should’ve done that.’ I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to join the [football] team.
“Since I came in I hadn’t really done what I wanted to do with baseball. I’ve been held back by a couple of things,” he added. “I just felt like I didn’t want any of my talents to go to waste. So I wanted to try to help out our football program.”
He doesn’t view going from throwing to catching as a big deal.
“Luckily in baseball you have to do both, so I’m not that rusty,” he said, with a laugh.
“Really, he wasn’t that rusty to me,” said starting quarterback Vad Lee, who has seen Smelter in informal workouts and 7-on-7s. “He looked pretty good. So if that was rusty I’m looking forward to seeing what else he’s got.”
The Yellow Jackets hope the Macon, Ga., native will resemble how he looked from 2007 through 2010, when he was recruited for both football and baseball while at Tattnall Square Academy. He established impressive athletic credentials in both sports.
He was a two-time Louisville Slugger All-American, in baseball, throwing two no-hitters and, as a senior, going 9-2 with a 0.92 ERA while smashing 10 home runs.
In football, he earned a pair of all-state selections and was a two-time Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA) Player of the Year.
(In case Tech hoops coach Brian Gregory is interested, Smelter also was a two-time GISA Player of the Year and two-time all-state selection in basketball.)
Smelter gave baseball a shot, owning a 2-1 record with a 4.46 ERA in 34 appearances (two starts, including the do-or-die 2011 NCAA Regional against Mississippi State).
But shoulder injuries limited Smelter, and factored into him retiring his 95 MPH fastball and ability to make hitters swing and miss and unveil his 4.6 40 speed, 32-inch vertical and ability to make opposing tacklers dive and miss.
It’s an adjustment but one he’s sure he can make.
“There’s a lot more change of direction,” said Smelter, who played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and safety in high school. “So it’s getting my feet ready, getting my cuts down, my change of direction, everything. Every time I go out there that’s getting better. The work I have and everybody has put in this summer, I feel, is allowing a lot of stuff to feel a lot more natural to me than before, when I wasn’t playing.”
Lee believes based on what he’s seen.
“I feel like DeAndre is going to do big things. I’m excited about him,” said Lee. “I’m going to keep working with him and hopefully he can continue to develop more. But I’m real excited.”
The Jackets are hoping that Smelter, listed at 6-3, 220, can provide the kind of explosiveness that he did at Tattnall Square, where he established the career record for receiving yards (he also set season- and career-records for interceptions).
Smelter said he already feels comfortable with Lee and believes that he and the entire corps of receivers can bring big things.
“A lot of times we work out in the morning or run in the afternoon,” he said. “We’ll get together, a lot of the receivers will get together with the quarterbacks and we’ll go out there and we’ll throw in the afternoon and work on a lot of stuff. Everybody’s getting that chemistry down.”
With an arm powerful enough to throw 95, Smelter also could provide some deception to the Jackets offense down the road. It’s something Head Coach Paul Johnson has shown before although it’s something Smelter never saw, even in high school.
“We had one [trick play] where I ran. We didn’t have one where I threw,” he said. “Coach Hester (former head coach Barney Hester) didn’t like to do a lot of crazy things. If we threw something in there it would be a reverse but I don’t think we ever ran a reverse-pass. We may have practiced it one time just to mess around but I don’t think we ever did it in a game.”
And if Paul Johnson decides to put one in?
“I can throw it or, if I have to, run it,” said Smelter, who admitted he wasn’t sure of the length of his longest throw. “It would be cool to get in one. To be honest, I haven’t thrown one downfield in a while. I have to check and see.”
He’ll spend more time checking on and shoring up his blocking.
“I feel like a lot of it is footwork and just staying in front of your man and doing what you have to do,” he said. “That’s something that’s going to get better with the summer and camp, too.”
Smelter will have two years of eligibility in football but also hasn’t given up on baseball. He plans to go out as a two-sport star, following in the footsteps of recent graduate Roddy Jones, who also played A-Back in football and the outfield in baseball (he was a senior Smelter’s freshman year), and current teammate Broderick Snoddy, a running back and record-setting sprinter on Tech’s track team.
Being a two-sport star hasn’t entered into his thinking. It’s all for the love of the games.
“Right after [football] season’s done I’ll start getting geared up for [baseball] season,” he said. “Usually I don’t think too much into that stuff. I just go out there and try to have fun.”
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