first_imgGeorgia Tech wide receiver DeAndre Smelter once attacked life the same way he attacked opposing hitters on the baseball diamond.“You just take it one pitch at a time,” Smelter said. “That’s all you can do.”But once chronic shoulder problems dealt a curveball to the junior’s once-burgeoning baseball career, he began taking things one snap at a time.Currently the team leader in receptions and receiving yards, Smelter is looking to continue his impressive return to the gridiron ranks when Syracuse (3-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) travels to Bobby Dodd Stadium to take on the Yellow Jackets (3-3, 2-2) on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.Smelter, who prior to the 2013 season hadn’t played football since high school, is still adjusting to life as a college football player following three seasons as a pitcher for Georgia Tech’s varsity baseball team.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“It’s been quite a process, but I’m definitely happy,” he said. “I’ve had success so far, but there’s still room for me to improve.”During his high school days, it was hard to find any area of his game that needed improvement. As a star pitcher at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon, Ga., Smelter threw two no-hitters and led his team to state championships in 2008 and 2009. He even got to play a game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, which he said was one of the greatest experiences of his life.On the football field, he was nearly as dominant. Although he saw time at quarterback and running back, Smelter excelled as a wide receiver and safety, setting school records for both interceptions and receiving yards. He even received offers from Southeastern Conference powerhouses Auburn, Georgia, Louisiana State and South Carolina.However, Smelter had played baseball since he was 3 years old. It was his first love, and pitching was what he did best.Professional scouts and college coaches were well aware of it, too.“He had a fantastic 94-95 mph fastball,” Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall said. “He was comparable to some of the best young pitchers in the game.”The Minnesota Twins selected Smelter in the 14th round of the 2010 MLB Draft.“It was a great experience, for me to be put in that position,” Smelter said of draft day. “I was really nervous, but it was great.”But rather than dart for the pros, Smelter decided to enroll at Georgia Tech and play for Hall. Smelter’s mother, Cora, wanted her son to have a college education. And as Hall remembers, she was hell-bent on it.“Cora told the pro scouts that if, worst case, her son gets a degree from Georgia Tech, that’s a wonderful thing.” Hall said. “The support from DeAndre’s entire family was tremendous.”At first, that decision paid off. In addition to starting 15 games in the outfield, Smelter allowed only one run in more than 17 innings as a freshman relief pitcher. He looked like the highly coveted recruit that mowed down hitters at Tattnall Square.That was before his shoulder began to fail him.“I just kept putting way too much stress on my labrum,” Smelter said. “I was playing the sport I love, but I wasn’t able to play to the best of my ability. That hurt more than anything.”His earned-run average ballooned to 8.53 in 2012, and it only dipped to 7.02 this past spring. After such a promising start, both his fastball and his chances at a baseball career faded. So when the opportunity to suit up for the football team for the next two seasons presented itself, Smelter jumped on it.Even in Georgia Tech’s famed option attack, he has caught 14 passes for 211 yards through six games, leaving him well on pace to surpass Orwin Smith’s team-high 288 yards last season.Head coach Paul Johnson said Smelter’s work ethic is among the best on the team.“The biggest thing is he’s very coachable. He listens because he wants to be good,” Johnson said. “DeAndre is becoming more and more a part of our plans. He’s got great ball skills and athleticism.”Although football is now No. 1 on the agenda, Smelter still plans to take advantage of his final season of baseball eligibility this spring. Coach Hall said he can’t wait to see how Smelter rebounds from what has been a tumultuous college career thus far.“As terrific an athlete as he is, he’s an outstanding person,” Hall said. “I’d love to see him have a great bounce-back year.”Smelter, meanwhile, has learned that if you keep battling back from adversity, another opportunity will always present itself.He was dealt a curveball, but he didn’t strike out.“The most important thing is having fun and enjoying the rest of my time here,” he said. “I’m still just taking it one play, one read at a time.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on October 17, 2013 at 2:05 am Contact Tyler: [email protected]last_img read more