Baseball was DeAndre Smelter’s first love. He is making room in his heart and schedule, once again, for football.
The Tech pitcher, a junior from Macon, spoke Tuesday about his reasons to join the football team at the end of the baseball season.
Baseball “has been the sport that I’ve played since I was a little kid, but I really did want to do both,” Smelter said.
Smelter will join the team as a wide receiver, an area where the Yellow Jackets sorely need depth. He will have two seasons of eligibility. Smelter was a two-way football star at Tattnall Square Academy, a GISA school in Macon. Tech, Georgia, Auburn and South Carolina were among schools to offer him scholarships, which he turned down in favor of baseball.
However, Smelter said he wanted “to get back into the competitive spirit” and met with football coach Paul Johnson about two weeks ago to discuss joining the team. It would mean he would have to go on a football scholarship, per NCAA rules regarding athletes playing football and another sport. With scholarship space available, Johnson agreed to put Smelter on scholarship for the 2013 season and decide on 2014 after that. He is expected to continue playing baseball next spring.
“He’s lined up at a position that the learning aspect of it’s not going to be that difficult,” Johnson said. “We’ll see. He’s got a chance to help. A lot of it depends on what he does this summer.”
Smelter, 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, will join the football team’s summer workouts following the end of the baseball season.
“Our guys here are going to be here running 7-on-7’s and throwing the ball, and I can assure you, (quarterbacks) Vad (Lee) and Justin (Thomas) will grab him,” Johnson said. “They’re excited. He’s a big guy, he can run. They’ll school him up, too.”
Smelter will join a position group that could use competition. Darren Waller is the leading returning wide receiver, with eight career catches. Anthony Autry and Travin Henry, both incoming freshmen last year, are coming back from knee surgery. Micheal Summers was a redshirt freshman last season. Corey Dennis has played sparingly.
Smelter said he expects the biggest adjustment to be getting used to the contact.
“But I think it’ll be a great time being out there,” he said. “I know a bunch of guys out there on the team. They want to win and they want to work, and that’s exactly what I want to do, too.”
A right-handed pitcher, Smelter was enough of a prospect to be chosen a high-school All-American and be drafted in the 14th round by the Minnesota Twins in 2010. However, his career at Tech has not taken off as expected. After recording a 0.52 ERA in 17 1/3 innings as a freshman, a shoulder injury limited him in his sophomore season. He has pitched 18 2/3 innings as a sophomore and junior, with a 8.68 ERA. After being able to hit 95 mph as a rising high school senior, Smelter has been unable to match that velocity, coach Danny Hall said.
“He’s a tremendous athlete and is still 88, 90, but it’s nowhere near what it was,” he said.
Smelter said the decision to try football wasn’t based on his baseball performance at Tech.
“I really just want to enjoy my time here in college,” he said. “I’ve had a great experience, and I don’t want to look back on life saying, ‘What could have been.’”