One of the great stories of the dominant Florida State defenses of the 1990s, former safety Shevin Smith died on Aug. 30 at the age of 44 after ongoing health-related issues.
A native of Miami, Smith came to FSU in 1993 as a walk-on. When all was said and done, Smith was a multi-year starter for the Seminoles and an All-ACC performer.
“He was part of my class — the (19)93 class — but he walked on,” said Andre Cooper, who played wide receiver at FSU from 1993 to 1996. “He always had the attitude that he wasn’t going to be just a tackling dummy. He always insisted that he was going to play. That spoke to his work ethic.”
When it comes to the late Smith, former teammates remember the walk-on-turned-2-year starter for not just his work ethic, but for his welcoming personality and his high IQ — both on the field and in the classroom. Todd Frier, a defensive back at FSU from 1995-99, recalls being greeted by Smith with open arms before his freshman season.
“I’ll never forget the first time I met him,” Frier said. “We were working out in the summer before we had to report. He was just so nice to me and he really didn’t have to be. He always wanted to help. He was just a really respected guy who worked his tail off. He definitely was one of the leaders on defense.”
Smith came to FSU as a 6-foot, 190-pound defensive back. Before all was said and done, Smith made 25 career starts, recording 148 career tackles, five for loss, eight interceptions and two forced fumbles.
“He and Andre Wadsworth came in together as walk-ons,” said E.G. Green, a wide receiver for FSU from 1993-97. “We knew Andre would get a scholarship, because he was so big and athletic, but Shevin was persistent. I remember one of the first games he started, he returned a pick-6 for a touchdown. Then one of the games after that, he had another touchdown on an interception. A couple games after that, he had a blocked punt for a touchdown. I always thought of him as such a clutch player.”
Smith appeared in just one game in 1994 before making a start in seven games as a sophomore in 1995. Over his final two seasons, Smith started every game. As a junior in 1996, Smith scored touchdowns in wins over NC State, Miami and Georgia Tech.
“I always appreciated those upperclassmen,” Frier said. “Shevin was tough as nails, but he had a heart for his teammates. He was a smart guy — a real good student — with a great work ethic. I never recall him taking anything lightly. He was such a helpful soul. It just breaks my heart.”
“He had a lot of confidence in himself, but he was always humble,” Green said. “He was always just so wise and understanding of the opponent he had. He was very intelligent and that translated to the football field. I went up against Shevin a lot in practice and he seemed to know what I was going to do before I did it. He saw things before they happened. He knew what route I was running.”
As a senior in 1997, Smith recorded a career-high 67 tackles and a tied career-bests with three interceptions and a forced fumble en route to being named second-team All-ACC. During the regular season, Smith had picks against Miami, Duke and North Carolina. The Seminoles shut out Miami 47-0 that season and topped North Carolina 20-3 in a top-5 match-up in Chapel Hill. In his final game at FSU, Smith returned an interception 51 yards in a 31-14 Sugar Bowl victory over Ohio State.
“He was the best teammate you could be around,” Cooper said. “He would always be where he was supposed to be. He’d never be out of place. He knew where everyone else around him was supposed to be.”
Following the 1997 season, Smith would go on to be drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the sixth round of the 1998 NFL Draft. Green, who shared an agent with Smith, said he never thought of the former safety as a speedster, but at FSU’s Pro Day, Smith ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash. Smith would play in 19 career games in the NFL.
“When money was on the line and the impossible needed to be done, he came through,” Green said. “I always had such a high level of respect for the things he was able to accomplish.”
A member of coordinator Mickey Andrews’ vaunted defense under legendary head coach Bobby Bowden, FSU finished in the top 5 nationally in each of Smith’s years on campus. Cooper, who spent time as a member of the NFL’s Denver Broncos, said he recalls playing against Smith and Tampa Bay in the preseason and the two expressing how proud they were of one another.
“I try to remember the good times,” Cooper said. “We had one of the best defenses in the country year-in and year-out. For him to start on that defense after coming in as a walk-on is unbelievable. The time I had with him, I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. He was a special, special dude.”