Central record-breaking RB De'Vonta Smith takes talents to Appalachian State
BROOKSVILLE — With three other Central players signing full scholarships on Wednesday, it was highly-decorated running back De’Vonta Smith who headlined the Bears’ national signing day class when the senior formally agreed to attend Appalachian State.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Smith rushed for 2,913 yards last season, his second straight campaign with more than 2,000 yards on the ground. He broke school records for career rushing yardage (6,257), touchdowns (66) and 100-yard games (22).
The standout tailback chose Appalachian State over offers from Cincinnati, East Carolina, Kentucky, Marshall, Syracuse, USF, South Alabama and Central Connecticut State. Recruited heavily by Mountaineers assistant Mark Ivey, Smith felt comfortable when he took his visit to the Boone, N.C., campus.
“Of all the programs that offered me, (Appalachian State) was the only one that seemed just as concerned with all the work I did in the classroom as I did on the field,” he said. “This was a long road for me, and I really felt welcomed with open arms when I was up there.”
Smith was named first team all-state in Class 5A, an honorable mention Parade All-American and a finalist for the Class 5A Offensive Player of the Year. This past year, the senior broke his cousin’s Hernando County rushing record when he rushed for 491 yards and scored eight touchdowns against Weeki Wachee. The previous mark was set by DeShawn Smith (444 yards) at Nature Coast in 2015.
He now joins the reigning Sun Belt Conference champions after Appalachian State finished 10-3 overall, defeating Toledo in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl 31-28.
The road to playing time will not be easy. Sophomore Jalin Moore led the Mountaineers with a conference-high 1,402 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground this past season.
“I’m going to do the best I can to get on the field, but if I have to redshirt as a freshman, I’m totally okay with that,” Smith said. “I will focus on my academics and make sure I’m ready once I do get my chance.”
Another major signing for the Bears was Dominique Walker inking with Florida A&M.
The defensive back received much attention from the Rattlers because of the physical style he showed in his lone season at Central. Bears coach Chris Sands made a point to promote Walker to the coaching staff at his alma mater. Sands was a standout offensive lineman for Florida A&M.
Walker transferred from Springstead for his senior season after leading the Eagles in rushing as a junior. The presence of Smith in the backfield pushed Walker to the defensive side of the ball, a place where he found his niche.
“I had a lot of trust in Coach Sands when he suggested I move to defense,” Walker said. “For me, the most important thing was getting an opportunity to play college football. Looking back now, all of the sacrifice was worth it.”
At 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, he wowed many with his ability to squat 505 pounds, showing off his leg strength. He finished his senior season with 36 tackles, one interception, one sack, and one fumble recovery.
Other signees for the Bears included LB Josh Rivera and DB Sam Garner. Rivera signed with Lincoln (Pa.), while Garner did the same with Webber International. This senior class led the Bears to the program’s first winning record (6-4) in a decade.
“Watching these kids sign is like my national championship,” Sands said. “I am one of the most competitive people you’ll meet, but my main goal every year isn’t getting a ton of wins. It’s about these kids and securing their futures.”