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Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Corey Smith grew up with football in hands

A youth league coach saw Corey Smith’s talent and told his father “. . . that boy could make you some money.”

NFL photo

A youth league coach saw Corey Smith’s talent and told his father “. . . that boy could make you some money.”

Snow whipped by in Richmond, Va., Monday. It crackled the phone lines and turned the lights on, then off. Corey Smith's family sat in the flickers and waited for news. They thought of their son far away in Florida, missing in the water.

This year he turns 30.

He lettered in college football and played for three professional football teams. He owns a big house in Land O'Lakes. He volunteers in the community. He gives his family whatever they ask for.

Were they proud?

"We were elated," said his father, Wyman Smith.

Smith had his hands on a football "darn near all his life," said his father. As a little boy, he idolized the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants, covering his room with memorabilia. He looked up to Jerry Rice and Lawrence Taylor.

His athletic career started with pee wee and youth leagues. One of his coaches recognized Smith's talent early. He pulled his father aside.

"You know, that boy could make you some money."

In high school, he spent all his time in the school gymnasium working out and playing basketball with friends. He was popular and outgoing, but kept a few select friends close to him.

He also played baseball, and was such a standout on the junior varsity football team that it didn't take long for him to advance to varsity, his father said. He was always strong on defense, but also swift enough to play running back.

Smith's parents described him as a health nut who always drinks different juices and doesn't care for sweets. Over time, he sprouted to 6 feet 2, 250 pounds.

Smith decided to keep his home in Land O'Lakes after playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002 to 2004, his father said. He fell in love with the area and the warm weather, but returns home to Richmond a few times a year.

"He loves his mama to death," said Wyman Smith, 63. "He always wants to hug and kiss her. She says, 'Don't squeeze me too hard!' "

He became a free agent after playing defensive end for the Detroit Lions in 2008. On the Lions' Web site, Smith said he hoped to continue his career in football as a coach or scout one day. He loves volunteering in golf tournaments and working with kids.

According to the team's online biography, Smith's favorite movies are the Godfather, Coming to America and Braveheart, and he loves watching DVDs of the television show Martin.

"He's kind of a funny guy. He likes to joke," said his father. "He takes after his daddy. We just joke around and tease each other."

Wyman Smith has never met the other three men who were on the boat with his son. He said Smith sometimes chartered large boats to take friends and family fishing.

"He liked to fish a lot, but they would go out on the big ones. We were kind of surprised with him going out on the little boat."

Smith's sister, Rhonda Lilly, 39, said her family spent a sleepless night Sunday. She called her brother "very humble" and "a wonderful family person." They hoped the snow would let up so they could drive to Florida soon, she said. Lilly wants her brother to meet her second grandchild, who was born three weeks ago.

"I just want everybody to pray for our family," she said. "Pray for him to come home safely."

Times staff writers Stephen Holder and Rita Farlow contributed to this report. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Corey Smith

Position: Defensive end

Age: 29

Height, weight: 6-2, 250 pounds

Hometown: Richmond, Va.

College: Earned four letters at North Carolina State; All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in 2001.

Pro: Was undrafted in 2002 but went on to make the Buccaneers' final roster as a rookie free agent. Played in six games for Tampa Bay during its Super Bowl season before being placed on the injured reserve list with a knee injury. Played in five games over the next two seasons in Tampa Bay before later moving on the 49ers and, in 2006, the Detroit Lions. Smith had, by far, his best pro season in 2008 with the Lions, recording 42 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble in 12 games, including two starts.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Corey Smith grew up with football in hands 03/02/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 12:06pm]
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