Aug. 10, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
DeAndre Smelter’s fate is yet to be determined, but you can say for sure that the Georgia Tech pitcher/outfielder-turned wide receiver is not easing back into the meaner sport.
As head coach Paul Johnson said, “He’s going to play. He’s making plays.”
It can be tricky business picking superlatives from the first scrimmage of the fall (or any scrimmage) because the whole deal is a form of fool’s gold. A good number of starters were sidelined Saturday morning, and the pace doesn’t quite match games.
Yet Saturday was the closest approximation of the real thing these Yellow Jackets have been through, and when the 90-minute session was finished in Bobby Dodd Stadium, Johnson brought up Smelter’s name before any other – without being asked.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Demaryius Thomas-ish looking wideout made quite special catches of 25 and 36 yards on passes from reserve quarterback Tim Byerly, landing him on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. That’s not all he did, so it was no surprise when the boss began his post-scrimmage summary thusly:
“For the first scrimmage, there were some positives and some negatives as well,” Johnson said. “It kind of started out with the offense doing really well, and [later] the defense probably did a little bit better. There’s a lot to work on, on both sides of the ball.
“Saw a few individuals make plays. DeAndre Smelter I thought had a good day, made some plays. That was great to see.”
Make that present tense; the Jackets need to see something at wide receiver, where Darren Waller is the only player on the roster with a reception at the college level.
That Smelter would be a fine football player is no surprise. He was a fine three-sport athlete at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon, where on the gridiron he played quarterback, wide receiver, running back and defensive back to All-State acclaim.
After high school, he looked to butter his bread in baseball with a fastball that passed the hallowed 90 mph threshold. He was quite an outfielder, too. Before the June 2010 draft, Scott Boras was on the family speed dial, serving as an adviser. Although the Twins selected Smelter in the 14th round, he opted to play baseball for the Jackets.
His first season went well. He was in the outfield mix with 15 starts, and as a pitcher with a 2-1 record, an ERA of 0.52 in 17.1 innings and 14 appearances as a freshman (’11).
The sophomore and juniors seasons, not so much. All the while, the right wing became a thing, limiting him almost always.
So, here he is; not giving up on baseball, but considering the possibility that football might offer as good or better a long-term plan.
“I made a decision [coming out of high school] that was best for me and my family. But since I came to Tech, my shoulder hasn’t quite been what I wanted it to be,” Smelter said Saturday morning. “I’ve been rehabbing like crazy to try to get to where I need to be. My fastball wasn’t near where I wanted it to be since I came here.”
Smelter’s recent decision to give football another try has been made in part because he said he doesn’t want to one day look back with regret that he didn’t try something that he might be very good at. There are no guarantees, but that’s nothing new.
He plans to play in the spring, yet doubt has clouded his crystal (base)ball.
That Smelter been as good as he’s been after not playing since he the fall of ’09 when he was a senior at Tattnall Square, well, that counts as a surprise. We’re talking 40 months or so, no spring practice, and an entirely different skill set to be deployed.
He’s been one of the surprises of camp, some days moreso than others, but that doesn’t mean adjustments are automatic. He may be a natural athlete. Football, though, is work.
Vad Lee never stopped playing the sport, and has been working the Tech system going on three years now, yet after the scrimmage Johnson said of his likely starting quarterback, “He still made a lot of mistakes . . . stuff that we can’t have in games. But he makes plays. One time he checked the wrong thing, and made a first down.”
In a way, that’s where Smelter is now. His athleticism is not in doubt; his football skills are being spit-polished. He played the game one way before. Now, he’s learning to play it the Tech way, and there’s rust falling off all the way, albeit quickly.
“Probably the speed of the game. It’s a lot different than baseball,” he said when asked about the biggest adjustment. “There’s a lot of change of direction, a lot of cutting and stuff. During training this summer, that’s what I worked on the most: my footwork.”
Waller remains a strong bet to start at one wide receiver spot. Smelter may not start at the other, yet Johnson has already made it clear that he’s in the mix.
Lee has seen it. “He had some pretty nice catches. He can get a lot better,” the quarterback said. “That’s the thing with him; I think he’ll get a lot better.”
If Smelter can get a lot better than he’s been, that’d be really great to see.
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