Four years ago, being the captain of a football team was the last thing on George Smith’s mind.
At that point, he was just wondering if he would live to see his next birthday.
The Vanderbilt wide receiver was hospitalized with transverse myelitis, a rare condition that causes spinal-cord swelling. It can cause paralysis and, in some cases, can be fatal.
The 6-foot-4 Smith’s weight melted to 165 pounds as he fought the illness in a Florida hospital in the spring of 2004.
On Monday, he was named one of Vanderbilt’s three team captains for the 2008 season in a voting of his teammates.
After recovering from his illness and re-joining the team in the spring of 2005, Smith said he felt lucky to have a second chance.
His sense of gratitude has not lessened.
“Sometimes I get reminded by looking at some of the scars,” Smith said. “Every day I thank God I’m still just alive and walking. Things like that don’t happen to everybody.”
Smith’s troubles weren’t over, however.
On Sept. 24, 2005, following a Vanderbilt home game against Richmond, Smith was shot in the right arm during a party at the Morgan House dormitory on the VU campus.
He quickly recovered and later returned to action that season, but wondered when luck would turn his way.
“There for awhile I was feeling like I was having a little bit of bad luck, but God gives us tests,” Smith said. “Those were just some of the tests I had to learn.”
Smith’s thankful attitude is easily noticeable. He takes the practice field each day with enthusiasm and is among the most vocal Commodores.
While his teammates respect the adversity Smith has overcome, coach Bobby Johnson said there were other reasons for Smith’s election to captain.
“He was elected because he cares about the program and has done a great job of being a leader,” Johnson said.
“George is not afraid to make his opinions known. He’ll bring people up to a higher level. He’s gone through some adversity, no doubt about it, but the key thing is he’s a good player and a good leader.”
Smith will be counted on heavily during the 2008 season as the Vanderbilt receiving corps attempts to replace Earl Bennett, who bypassed his senior year to enter this month’s NFL Draft.
Smith isn’t lacking for experience. Due to his medical issues of the past, he enters the 2008 season as a sixth-year senior and has caught 76 passes in his career for eight touchdowns.
Producing a solid season in his final go-around shouldn’t be difficult for Smith. All he has to do is remember where he was four years ago.
“I was just happy to get up out of that bed,” Smith said. “That’s why this is so much of a blessing. I got knocked down and got back up. Now I’m a leader of this team.”
CAPTAINS NAMED:Along with Smith, safety Reshard Langford and center Bradley Vierling have been elected Vanderbilt football captains for the 2008 in a voting of players.
“They’ve done the things we’ve asked them to do at a very high level,” coach Bobby Johnson said of the captains. “Our team wanted these three guys to lead the team.”
Langford has started 35 consecutive games and is Vanderbilt’s active career leader with 170 tackles and eight interceptions.
Smith has started 25 straight games and has posted 76 receptions and eight touchdowns in his career.
Vierling will play center in 2008 after playing multiple positions on the offensive line last year.