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Former Herd QB headed to EKU
HUNTINGTON – Marshall’s hotly contested quarterback competition, which started Tuesday afternoon with the opening session of spring practice, consists of four candidates.
It could have featured five.
But a series of unfortunate events took away that opportunity for former Thundering Herd quarterback Chris Smith, who left the team last April after one week of spring practice to deal with an anxiety-related medical condition.
Smith had battled a severe case of anxiety disorder for eight months before he decided to step away from the sport he loves and had played most of his life. It sidelined him for three of the team’s first four sessions last spring.
Marshall Coach Mark Snyder announced Smith’s departure April 8, telling media members he would remain on scholarship but remove the athlete from his student-athlete title.
“It’s getting worse and worse each week, it seems like,” Snyder said at the time. “He’s going to step away from the game and try to get himself right because it’s getting really bad.”
Indeed, that was the plan. Smith hoped he eventually could return to the field, but it quickly became apparent he wouldn’t get to do so for the Thundering Herd.
“I haven’t been at Marshall since I quit because Coach Snyder took my scholarship,” Smith said Tuesday afternoon in a Facebook interview from his home in South Point, Ohio. “He took it the day I quit.”
Snyder said he couldn’t remember the specifics of Smith’s situation.
“To be honest,” Snyder said, “I don’t know.”
Snyder said he thinks Marshall used an NCAA-allowed medical exemption for Smith. That would have allowed Smith to remain on scholarship while he pursued his degree but prohibit him from playing football again. That also would have given Snyder an extra scholarship for the next recruiting class.
“It allows him to stay on scholarship, but I get my number back because he never plays again,” Snyder said. “It helps both sides in that situation because we made a commitment to him and he made a commitment to us.”
A year has passed and Smith feels well enough to compete in college athletics again. He plans to attend Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky, where he will begin life as a two-sport student-athlete in August.
“I just really miss competing and I feel like I have control over my situation now,” said Smith, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore-to-be who will compete in football and track for the Colonels. “I’m really excited to get back into it.”
Smith is a strong-armed thrower who competes in the discus, javelin and shot put. He also considered Southeastern Conference members South Carolina and Tennessee for track only, visiting both schools during his layoff, but he opted for Eastern Kentucky and an opportunity for both sports.
“I just feel really good about EKU because of the coaches and players,” said Smith, who will have at least three years of eligibility remaining and plans to petition the NCAA for a medical redshirt to earn a fourth.
“I’ll be there with (former Marshall short-yardage running back) Kelvin Turner. They are a division lower than Marshall. So, I can play right away without sitting out another year.”
Interestingly enough, Smith was a redshirt freshman competing against four other quarterbacks for the wide-open starting job last spring. He would have faced a similar scenario this spring – and he thinks he would have shined in it, critics be damned.
“People are very close-minded and still don’t believe that kind of condition is real,” said Smith, who had to endure mentally and physically painful panic attacks associated with his illness. “I still deal with idiots who tell me I quit because I was scared and pouting because I couldn’t play at that level.”
Recruiting services called Smith, who starred at South Point High School, the top-ranked prep quarterback in Ohio during his senior season (2006). He threw for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns that year.
A two-time All-State second-team selection, Smith had scholarship offers from Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Iowa, Marshall, Ohio and West Virginia.
“Without a doubt, I feel that I am (a Conference USA-caliber quarterback),” Smith said. “I don’t want to come across as cocky, but if I wasn’t, I don’t think some of the top programs in the nation would have recruited me and offered me scholarships.”
By Jacob Messer
Daily Mail sports writer