by Jack West, Elba Clipper intern
Dennis Smith, an Elba native, will be inducted into the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame on June 29 at the Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center. Smith played football, baseball and ran track at Elba High School from 1968 through 1971. He then played collegiate football at Clemson University from 1971 to 1976. During his time at Elba High, he started on the football team for three consecutive years and was named All-SAC (South Alabama Conference) his junior and senior years. With 855 yards during the regular season, Smith led the SAC in rushing yards and scoring during his senior year. He was also named the Offensive Player of the Game during the Liberty Bowl against Dora that year. After graduation, Smith attended Clemson University. He played on Clemson’s Freshman Team as a wide receiver before being moved to the defensive secondary as a sophomore. He was redshirted later that year because of a shoulder injury. Then, after recovering from his injury, Smith found himself as a backup safety for another player, Peanut Martin. “I finally got an opportunity to play after a guy broke his ankle in front of me,” Smith said in an interview with The Dothan Eagle. Martin’s injury was during Clemson’s second game that year, which meant that Smith only got to play in nine out of ten games. However, he still led the ACC in interceptions that year with a total of six. “Dennis was just amazing,” said Clemson defensive backfield coach Joe Burson in 1974. “He simply learned to play the game himself after being changed from receiver after his freshman year and he is something. To say that he had a great year would be an understatement.” Not only did he lead the ACC in interceptions that year, he was also named Defensive Player of the Week twice: against Georgia Tech and North Carolina Despite Smith’s success on the football field, he received little attention in the wider sports press. In his interview with The Dothan Eagle, Smith said, “They didn’t even put my picture in the paper there.” An article in the Southern Football Pre-Season Edition of 1975 said that, “Dennis Smith led the ACC in interceptions (six) last year, but he probably has the lowest profile of any star in the league.” The article went on to describe him as “a medium-sized lad 6-0 (six feet tall) and 170 pounds, but one of those gutty individuals that can make coaches like Red Parker look mighty good.” In 1975, when Peanut Martin returned from his injury, Smith was moved over to strong safety and named to the South Carolina All-State Football Team. That also was the year he was given the nickname “Deer Dog,” for his love of the outdoors and for using dogs to track deer. Smith graduated from Clemson in 1976 and returned to the wiregrass as the recreational director for the city of Opp. While there, he coordinated all forms of recreation for the city including boys’ baseball leagues, men’s/women’s softball and pool operations. Then, in 1980, Dennis came back to his hometown to work as the recreational director for Elba. Notably, he helped the city procure a grant for the construction of Hawkins-Williams Park and coached several youth sports teams. He worked for the city of Elba until the early 1990s, at which point he decided to pursue his dream of being a full-time farmer. Smith is married to Jan Young Smith, his high school sweetheart, and they have two dauthers and two grandchildren. Daughter DeAnn is a graduate of biosystems engineering from Auburn University and is married to Neil Grantham. They have a five-year daughter, Parrish, and reside in Elba. Daughter Alison s a graduate of the College of Business from Troy University and is married to Zach Bradley. They have a two-year-old son, Asher, and reside in Troy, Ala. Dennis and Jan reside on a farm in north Elba. From his farm, Smith said he enjoys watching coach Dabo Swinney lead the Clemson Tigers to National Championships. This year is the 27th Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame induction, and Smith is one of six people being inducted this year. The ceremony will be at 7 p.m. on June 29, at the Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center. Tickets for the event are $50 and must be purchased in advance from Janna Everett Holland at 334-701-9938.