Recruit, 25, turns corner again

Garry Smith: Temple is giving the former cornerback another football chance seven years after he left Dunbar - and 2 1/2 after he was hurt and a friend killed in a shooting.

College Football

February 13, 2002|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

This is the time of year when college football coaches love to boast about how many high school All-Americans they have landed, talk proudly about 40-yard dash times and brag about bench-press and squat totals.

Dunbar's Garry Smith wasn't part of the big-time talk.

Smith, 7 years older than most other recruits, quietly signed a letter of intent at his Northeast Baltimore home last Wednesday morning at 8 and faxed it to the Temple University football office.

"I have one thing to say to those All-Americans: `Show me,' " said Smith, 25. "I plan to play in `The League' [NFL]."

Temple assistant coach and defensive backs coach Nick Rapone said: "We talked to his coaches at Santa Rosa [Junior College in California], and all the reports we got were good ... on his weightlifting and going to class. He's a very physical player, and has speed [4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash]. It was a perfect fit from the start."

Rapone said Smith will be competing for the starting right cornerback job next fall.

It's safe to say Smith - 5 feet 11, 185 pounds - is considered a long shot to make it big.

He has taken a circuitous route from high school to Division I-A football, arriving nearly seven years late.

Why?

Smith, a second-team All-Metro cornerback at Dunbar - where he played for three seasons with St. Louis Rams linebacker Tommy Polley - first opted for some failed professional baseball tryouts with the Florida Marlins and New York Mets out of high school. Then he decided to work for six years as a stylist in the Frankfurt Avenue hair salon owned by his sister, Shalita Smith.

That was all just a prelude to the most traumatic event in Smith's life. On Sept. 30, 1999, he and a friend, Ziyad Brown, 22, were shot while driving near Morgan State. A car pulled up on their right, and someone opened fire. Brown, in the passenger seat, was killed.

Smith said he was hit in the chest and stomach, causing the car to crash into the curb.

"I quickly pulled Ziyad out of the car, but it was too late and then I collapsed," he said. "The ambulance came, and they put an oxygen mask on my face to help me breathe. The police arrived, but they didn't find the guy who did it. But the word on the street is that the guy is in jail."

Baltimore City police would say only that they have a file on the shooting but have never found a suspect.

Smith suffered a collapsed lung and was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he spent a week recuperating before going home. There, his sister took care of him for two months until he recovered.

While he was mending, Smith kept yearning for those Saturday afternoons on the football field. Then came the big break that paved the way to Temple.

Smith's friend, Tyree Cantry, had played basketball at Santa Rosa, and he told Smith to give the northern California school a try. So in February 2000, Smith sent Santa Rosa head coach Keith Simons a videotape of himself in action, and Simons liked it enough to invite Smith out to Santa Rosa in June.

Simons told the Web site OwlScoop.com: "He's as strong as any corner in the nation. He runs well, he's a good cover corner, and he's a tough kid ... . He's aggressive, likes to be out on an island, and likes to mix it up and smack people."

Santa Rosa defensive coordinator Lenny Wagner said: "It took a lot of courage for Garry to stay out here. He started out lower than third-string, but he wound up starting by the fifth game of his freshman season and making 80 tackles, 15 pass breakups and five interceptions in two seasons.

"This is a real feel-good story considering everything he's been through."

Smith said: "This is all like a dream for me. I owe a lot to the people like my dad [Garry Sr.] and my mother [Henrietta Bizzell], who have stuck by me through all this."

He also credits his first cousin, Morgan State all-time leading rusher Ali Culpepper, for constantly reminding him that maybe he should return to football.

"When I step on the field for Temple, it will be a magic moment," Smith said.

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