Emmitt Smith

In the Huddle with...


By Matt Christopher

Illustrated by The #1 Sports Writer for Kids

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ebook (Digital original)


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The star running back of the NFL. The All-Star center leading his team to the championship. Matt Christopher delves into the life of both of these sports stars, exploring the paths they have traveled, the hardships they have overcome, and the highs and lows of their careers. Each book contains exciting black-and-white action photos, the player’s stats, and a list of his career highlights. Real-life sports action plus Matt Christopher’s easy-to-read style equals a series not be missed.



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First eBook Edition: December 2009

ISBN: 978-0-316-09522-8

Chapter One: 1969–83

Mighty Mini-Mite

One evening when Emmitt Smith III was a baby, his father, Emmitt Jr., and his mother, Mary, were relaxing in the living room of the family home. Suddenly, they heard a loud thump in the next room.

They looked at each other, then jumped to their feet. The noise had come from young Emmitt's room, where he was taking a nap in his crib. His parents were worried that something awful had happened.

As they raced toward the door, Emmitt Smith III came toddling through the doorway, a triumphant little smile on his face. He was only nine months old but had already learned how to climb out of his crib and walk. Not many nine-month-old babies can even walk.

But that's Emmitt Smith for you. He has always done what others have thought was impossible. In fact, he has made a career out of it.

From the time he was a young boy, Emmitt wanted to play pro football for the Dallas Cowboys. By focusing on his goal and working hard, Emmitt kept improving and finally achieved his dream.

At nearly every stage of Emmitt's football career, someone always questioned whether he could succeed at the next level. People were always saying he was too short, too slow, or too something to keep playing well.

That never stopped Emmitt. He simply remained focused on his goal. And each time he reached a goal, he would set his sights on another one. When he began playing football in high school, his first goal was to make the starting lineup. He did, and so he set new goals—eventually becoming one of the best high school running backs in history and earning a college scholarship.

The same strategy served Emmitt well at the University of Florida. He began his career on the bench but soon became a Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the best running backs in college football. When he joined the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League, he continued to set goals for himself. Now he is the best running back in pro football and one of the greatest football players of all time!

When Emmitt was a baby, his parents thought he might become a football player. Only a few days after he started walking, he started running! Each time his parents came toward him with their arms outstretched, Emmitt just laughed and ran away. Even then, he was hard to catch.

He loved football from the moment he first set eyes on the game. Before Emmitt celebrated his first birthday, his mother noticed that the only time he seemed to settle down and stay quiet was when there was a football game on television. So every time a game came on, she placed Emmitt in a windup swing in front of the TV. Emmitt would stare at the screen for hours, enthralled, as if he were studying each play.

"I remember it before anything else," Emmitt once told a reporter, "sitting there watching, wanting to play. It's my earliest memory. Before anything else, there was football."

The game of football has always been important to the Smith family. Emmitt's father was a star defensive back at Washington High School in Pensacola, Florida, a city of about 60,000 in the Florida panhandle. He received some interest from a few big-time colleges that wanted to offer him a scholarship to play football.

But Emmitt Jr. injured his knees in high school. The scholarships never materialized, so instead of enrolling in a large four-year school, he attended a two-year junior college.

But in his very first season, his mother, Erma Lee, became ill and had to be confined to a wheelchair. His father, Emmitt Sr., already worked long and hard as a laborer at a factory. He needed someone to help take care of Erma Lee.

Emmitt Jr. volunteered. As Erma Lee's only child, he knew she needed him. Although athletics were important to him, his family was even more important. He set aside his dream of attending college and playing sports. He quit school and took a job as a bus driver for the city of Pensacola. Emmitt Sr. and Emmitt Jr. arranged to work different shifts so someone was always at home with Erma Lee.

A few years later, Emmitt Jr. married. He and his wife, Mary, settled in a small house in a housing project only a few blocks away from his parents.

The young couple soon had a daughter, Marsha. Then, on May 15, 1969, they had a little boy they named Emmitt III, after his father and grandfather. The Smiths later had three more children, all boys: Erik, Emory, and Emil.

The Smiths weren't rich, but Emmitt's father worked hard to support the family. Although they didn't have a lot of possessions, there was plenty of love to go around.

As the oldest of four brothers, Emmitt had many playmates. The four brothers got together with their cousins almost every day to ride bikes and play in nearby parks. One of Emmitt's favorite games was football.

Mary Smith didn't mind that her boys enjoyed playing outside, but she didn't care for the dirty pants and shirts they came home in after playing football. So after the boys left home to play, they would take off their pants and shirts, turn them inside out, and put them back on to play. Then, before they returned home, they would turn their clothes right side out again so all the dirt was on the inside. That way, they thought, their mother wouldn't know they had been playing football.

Mary soon figured out their ruse, but she didn't make Emmitt or his brothers stop playing football. She knew the game was their favorite sport.

Every time an NFL game was on television, Emmitt dropped everything to watch. The Dallas Cowboys were his favorite team. His favorite players were Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach and running back Tony Dorsett. When Emmitt played football on the sandlots, he usually pretended he was one of those two players.

When Emmitt was eight years old, his family moved from the projects into their own home a few blocks away. His grandparents lived right next door.

He loved being close to his grandmother and grandfather. Sometimes, Emmitt even stayed overnight to help take care of Erma Lee. Although she couldn't walk, she set a good example for Emmitt, who remembers that "she was the strongest person I knew." Despite her illness, she was never sad or pessimistic. Instead, she had a smile for everyone and always encouraged Emmitt to do his best.

He usually did. Emmitt's mother made sure all her children studied hard and went to church every Sunday morning. Emmitt enjoyed the singing that took place at every service, but when the minister started giving his sermon, Emmitt and his brothers sometimes became antsy and started acting up. The only way Mary could keep them in line was to whisper, "If you boys behave, you can all play football when we get home." That was usually enough to ensure the boys' good behavior.

In 1975, Emmitt became eligible to play organized football in the local Mini-Mite league. Emmitt's father wasn't eager for him to play. His own old football injuries made him worry for his son. He didn't want Emmitt to get hurt.

But Emmitt wanted to play football more than anything else in the world. He pestered his mother every day to let him play. Mary Smith knew how much it meant to him and finally convinced her husband to allow their son to play. Emmitt was thrilled.

He joined a team sponsored by the Salvation Army. In his first season, Emmitt played quarterback.

The team was successful, and Emmitt was the star. He passed or ran the ball nearly every play. He was more mature than most of the other boys, which gave him a big advantage.

But some of Emmitt's opponents thought his team was trying to cheat. They accused Emmitt of being older and bigger than the league rules allowed. The league matched players of similar weight and size so that no one would be at a disadvantage. As a player grew larger, he would move up to a league with bigger boys. They asked to weigh him and see his birth certificate before almost every game.

That didn't bother Emmitt. It just made him more determined.

On the first day of practice in his second year, Emmitt's coach told him, "You're not playing quarterback this season."

"Wh-what?" sputtered Emmitt. He was crestfallen. He loved playing quarterback.

"This season," said his coach, "we're gonna toss you the football and let you run. You're a running back."

At first, Emmitt was disappointed. But he soon discovered that he liked being a running back. In fact, it felt as if he already knew how to play the position. Although Emmitt was big and fast, it was his ability to see the entire field and react to what was happening before anyone else could that made him special. As Emmitt later recalled in his autobiography, The Emmitt Zone, "Just before the ball was snapped, I could look at a defense and know where the hole would be. I realized my vision was something special."

When Emmitt Smith talks about his he means more than his ability to see things clearly with his eyes. He is also speaking about his ability to concentrate and stay focused.

Most young football players have a difficult time doing that. They get caught up in the excitement of the moment, and the play becomes a confusing mishmash of action. They find it difficult to do what they are supposed to.

While the quarterback is barking out the signals, Emmitt crouches six or seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, in the tailback position. He looks out over the defense and compares what he is supposed to do on the play with how the defense is lined up. Through study and experience, he has learned to anticipate what is going to happen in the next few moments.


On Sale
Dec 19, 2009
Page Count
128 pages

Matt Christopher

About the Author

Matt Christopher is the best-selling name behind more than 100 sports-themed books for young readers.

Learn more about this author