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National Signing Day: North Hall's Smith jumps at offer to play football at Air Force
Despite 5-foot-7 frame, Smith earned All-State honors in football
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North Hall quarterback Andrew Smith, left, talks with his great uncle Pete Smith during Signing Day ceremonies Wednesday at the Longstreet Cafe in Gainesville. Smith signed to play football at Air Force. - photo by Nat Gurley | The Times

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In an age when college football prospects are most routinely prioritized and evaluated by height and weight, North Hall’s Andrew Smith is a refreshing exception to the rule.

At 5-foot-7 and only 150 pounds, he’s never been tall and baring a late growth spurt, the 18-year-old, two-sport star never will.

But his lack of size never slowed Smith down.In fact, it only made him work harder.

Smith was an electrifying offensive and defensive leader for the Trojans football program, with All-State and Region 7-AAA Player of the Year honors to his name during a distinguished career.

However, his love for baseball as a middle infielder was always strong too.

He always thought that baseball would be the path he would follow to a college scholarship, until an offer as a senior came around that he couldn’t refuse and provided the potential of a bright future after college.

The Air Force Academy had no trouble looking past Smith’s size, knowing he could fit a running back/wide receiver hybrid position well.

Smith, who started as quarterback in 2013, was always able to display his blazing speed, never shied away from contact and always displayed a fearless attitude when running the ball.

And as Bob Christmas, who coached Smith all four years at North Hall, put it: the coaches for the Falcons were sold almost right away with what Smith could bring to Colorado Springs.

“Andrew is just full speed 100 percent of the time,” said Christmas, who played Smith both ways in football. “He was such a fun guy to coach. He loved practice and was upbeat all the time, which his teammates really responded to.

“And an absolute playmaker all the time ... just a first-class young man.”

On Wednesday, Smith signed his National Letter of Intent to attend Air Force. While it comes with so much promise for the future after school, it was one of the toughest decisions he ever had to make.

Originally, the Trojans’ leader in seven offensive categories in baseball was going to accept a 60-percent scholarship offer (combining athletic and academic scholarship money) to keep playing the sport at Georgia Southern next year.

When he made his decision final in late October in favor of football, Smith said he had to call Georgia Southern baseball coach Rodney Hennon to break the news to him, then deliver the good news to Air Force Football coach Troy Calhoun that it was where he wanted to continue playing at the next level.

He said a lot of prayer and reflection were involved in making a decision that would impact the rest of his life. Three months after making his decision, Smith feels like it was right for his future.

“Going to Air Force, I’ll have the opportunity to play football in a Division I program and receive a top-five education in the world,” said Smith, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and recorded 94 tackles from his spot in the secondary for the Trojans this season.

“This is an unbelievable opportunity for my future. It’s going to be tough to leave all my friends and family behind, but I feel like God opened this door in my life for a reason.”

Even with his scholarship offer covering football, it doesn’t necessarily close the door on baseball.

According to his mother, Sally Smith, NCAA rules dictate that an athlete can only participate in one sport as a freshman, but he could join the Air Force baseball program as a sophomore, as long as he’s still interested and feels that it wouldn’t be too hard to handle with football, academic life and military training responsibilites.

Andrew says that he’s already had communication with the Air Force baseball coach to express interest.

Smith’s first visit to the Air Force Academy was with his father, Randy, during the weekend of the open week of North Hall’s football season in September.

By that point, Christmas had already welcomed in Falcons’ defensive coordinator Charlton Warren, now at Nebraska, to see film of his diminutive star.

The second trip to Colorado was with both parents Jan. 23-25 to tour the campus for his official visit. While far away from home in Northeast Georgia, he’s already familiar with some of the names and faces of future teammates at Air Force.

While visiting, he chatted about his decision with Hayes Linn, who was also a baseball and football standout at Cartersville High, and played against Smith head-to-head for the Class AAA state baseball title in 2013.

Linn made a similar to decision to go with football over baseball.

Buford High graduate Cody Getz also played running back for Air Force from 2009-2012, along with Christmas sending another player from North Hall’s Class of 2005 to play for the Falcons.

Even though Smith’s decision has the full support of his family, playing football in college was never a realistic option until he earned First Team All-State honors in Class AAA as a defensive back for the Trojans’ state semifinal program in 2012.

Air Force was his only option for football, while Georgia Southern, Mercer and North Carolina-Wilmington were all after him for baseball.

“I was very shocked when he said he was going to play football,” said his mother, who noted Andrew’s first word ever was ‘ball’ and that he started playing T-ball at age 3. “But we all agree that he’s made the right decision.”

Andrew’s mother was always leery of his small stature compared to bigger boys his age. Her rule was he couldn’t play football until he weighed 60 pounds, which in his case, turned out to be fourth grade. Right away, coaches put him at a position where he could get the ball in his hands and make plays.

As North Hall’s cheerleading advisor, Sally was always on the field at The Brickyard for all of her son’s exciting high school plays. While nerve racking for a mother to watch up close, it was certainly exciting to share in his success.

“When he was playing football, Andrew’s always been happy and care free,” his mother said. “He’s always had a great relationship with that group of players.”

Trojans baseball coach Trent Mongero discussed the decision with Smith and knows he’s making a mature decision for his future, and not focusing strictly on athletics.

“He understands what it means for his future to receive a degree from Air Force and the opportunities it opens up for his future,” Mongero said.

Since Smith made a late decision to go with Air Force, it made it imperative to tie up any loose ends academically.

Even though grades were never an issue for Smith since he carries a 3.91 grade point average, he just had to focus on having adequate ACT scores.

He’s already got a good trackrecord for leadership as high Junior Class president, Senior Class vice-president and member of the Youth Leadership Hall committee.

When he’s accepted to the Academy over its Prep School, the family has the promise from Ninth District Congressman Doug Collins to write the necessary letter of recommendation on his behalf.

Even if Smith enrolls first at the Preparatory School first, it has its own football schedule separate from the Air Force Academy.

Smith is ready to embrace the challenge of playing Division-I college football. While many have discounted him for his size all his life, he just has shown every step of the way he’s athletically gifted.

Christmas remembers a story from Smith’s freshman season that may have foreshadowed his calling for the future.

North Hall’s coach for the past 13 seasons remembers bringing in a Division I coach to look at one of his players during the 2010 football season. Later into the practice, Christmas said he asked the coach, ‘what do you think?’ The coach quickly replied that he’d been too focused on watching his young defensive back, Smith, to evaluate the player he came to scout.

Other coaches that faced North Hall in the postseason, like Woodward Academy’s John Hunt in 2012, told Christmas that Smith was the best defensive back he’d seen all season.

And in the state quarterfinal round of Smith’s junior season, he played a huge role in its stunning 52-10 win against Peach County at The Brickyard with a couple touchdowns and stifled Peach wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, who now plays at Florida.

The week before that effort, Smith accounted for both touchdowns — one on a punt return, the other on a run play set up by his interception — in a 13-9 second-round win against Morgan County. 

In 2013, the praise for the Trojans’ quarterback didn’t cease. East Hall coach Bryan Gray was adamant about the fact that he felt Smith was the best football player in the area.

“I think he really got excited about the idea of playing football last year (2012),” Christmas said. “He was a tremendous leader and I’m so happy for the attention he’s received.”

Still, it wasn’t easy moving past his first love of baseball. Since Mongero plugged him in as starting third baseman as a freshman in 2011, Smith hasn’t left the lineup.

He hit .421 with 27 RBIs, 53 runs scored and 41 stolen bases as a junior for the Trojans, which won a school-record 32 games and finished state runner-up in 2013.

Now a shortstop, Smith owns career baseball records at North Hall with hits (119), runs (130), stolen bases (71), walks (60), and single-season records for runs (53) and stolen bases (41).

“And I feel like he’s got a few more (records) in him,” Mongero said.

In high school, Smith’s dream was to play baseball at the University of Georgia. He attended some camps for the Bulldogs, but was delivered the news that the Bulldogs’ coaching staff didn’t think he would ever be big enough.

Being judged because of his size is a hurdle he’s handled all his life. Other schools felt the same way, but that didn’t discourage his dream.

He kept playing. Kept setting school records. And turned out to be a football player Trojans fans would never forget.

Mongero cautions anyone that doubts Smith can now play college football at the highest level.

“Anyone that doubts him now, you better be ready to be proven wrong,” North Hall’s baseball coach said.

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