The first response came last spring from an NCAA Division III program in Fayetteville, N.C., and Chris Smith could barely contain his excitement.
“I went in and told my mom and everything,” he said. “I couldn’t believe they got back with me.”
It was Smith’s first bit of evidence that he was on the right track.
The Durant linebacker had been contacting dozens of college football programs over the past year, sending out highlight films and staying in regular contact with coaches. He wasn’t going to wait for them to call him first.
Smith’s efforts paid off Wednesday, when he signed a scholarship offer to attend Florida A&M University.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior was one of the catalysts of Durant’s first unbeaten regular season in school history, tallying 49 tackles, four of them for a loss, three forced fumbles, three quarterback hurries and two interceptions.
Cougars coach Mike Gottman said Smith, a soft-spoken kid, grew into a leadership role as he played more and gained confidence. He still preferred to let his play do the talking to his teammates.
“He led by example,” Gottman said. “He would make the calls on the field and get us lined up in the right place. And he was one of the hardest workers that we had.”
Smith was much more assertive in the recruiting process.
At the end of his junior year, he started reading guides on how to draw the interest of college coaches then started researching schools. He followed that up by creating a highlight tape on the recruiting video service Hudl.com and sending it out to dozens of football programs.
“You can’t wait,” he said. “That’s what I learned in my research. Don’t wait on anyone.”
His mother, Donna White, said they learned a lot about the recruiting process from his older sister, who went to the University of Minnesota on a volleyball scholarship a few years ago. But she said Smith took much of the initiative in seeking out schools.
"He did a lot of this on his own,” White said. “This is not something that just happened. A lot of work went into it.”