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UNC LB Andre Smith aims to show Florida State he’s tall enough

UNC linebacker Andre Smith, a Jacksonville native, is good enough to start at middle linebacker for the Tar Heels, but he was too short to receive a scholarship offer from Florida State.
UNC linebacker Andre Smith, a Jacksonville native, is good enough to start at middle linebacker for the Tar Heels, but he was too short to receive a scholarship offer from Florida State. rwillett@newsobserver.com

There is no ideal way for high school boys to hear they’re too short for anything – a spot on a team, a date, a college football scholarship. And so years later, Andre Smith hasn’t forgotten.

At one point during his time at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., Smith said the coaching staff at Florida State expressed interest in him. He said they liked his potential at linebacker, and weighed the possibility of offering him a scholarship.

Then one day, Smith said earlier this week, he received what he described as “some unfortunate news.”

“They said I wasn’t quite tall enough,” said Smith, a North Carolina sophomore. “So it was a little bit personal for me.”

Smith recounted the story on Tuesday after practice. He said he “wouldn’t trade this for the world” – his opportunity at UNC, where in his second college season he has become the Tar Heels’ starting middle linebacker.

And yet in some ways it still hurts, his perceived deficiency. Some of it has come back to the surface this week, with UNC preparing to play on Saturday at Florida State, which is about two and a half hours from Smith’s hometown.

The Tar Heels practiced on Tuesday with the Florida State war chant blaring over the speakers during the final 30 minutes or so. It played on a loop, over and over, and for Smith it might have sounded something like rejection.

He can still see the moment it happened. He was in P.E. class. A Florida State coach, Smith said, was talking with Smith’s high school coach.

“He went up to my coach and he was like, ‘Uh, coach if he just had a couple of more inches,’” Smith said.

It’s definitely in the back of my mind. Well, really, it’s more on the front of my mind.

UNC linebacker Andre Smith on Florida State’s decision to bypass him because of his height

The 235-pound Smith isn’t necessarily short, per se. He’s listed at 6 feet. Yet the Seminoles, who have again become a national force under coach Jimbo Fisher, can afford to be picky in recruiting.

And so players like Smith, good enough to start at UNC during his second season, might be an inch or two too short, or a half step too slow, for Florida State. At UNC, Smith isn’t alone in his Florida State rejection.

Twelve UNC players, including Smith, are from Florida. According to 247sports.com only two of them – reserve receiver Jordan Cunningham, who transferred to UNC from Vanderbilt, and offensive lineman William Sweet – received scholarship offers from Florida State.

Among the 10 who didn’t are five regular starters: Smith, safety Donnie Miles (from Miami), linebacker Cole Holcomb (New Smyrna Beach), center Lucas Crowley (Ponte Vedra Beach) and right tackle Jon Heck (Jacksonville).

Holcomb, the linebacker, didn’t have any FBS offers of any kind in high school. He arrived at UNC as a walk-on and ascended into a starting position this season.

Smith, meanwhile, did have plenty of other options. Miami offered him a scholarship. So did Nebraska and Wisconsin. Not Florida State, though, and Smith remembers why: He was told he was too short.

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” he said. “Well, really, it’s more on the front of my mind.”

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