Unless you got to Hammond School or follow the Skyhawk football team, you probably don’t know who Cannon Smith is.
From the outside, Smith looks like a normal student, donning his letterman jacket as he makes his way to class. He even spends time in the courtyard in the middle of the school to work on homework in between classes.
However, Smith isn’t a typical.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Smith is a tight end for the Skyhawk football team and is verbally committed to play football for Clemson University. He also is ranked 240th in the ESPN 300, a system that ranks the top 300 high school football prospects in the nation.
But Smith doesn’t pay much attention to the buzz surrounding him. In fact, when the ESPN rankings came out, he had no idea he was even on the list.
“It was actually people telling me, ‘Hey, did you know you’re on ESPN (300 list),’ and I was like ‘I had no idea,’ ” he said. “I didn’t think I’d be on that level with other kids around the country.”
“It was a pretty good feeling (knowing) you’re rated in the country at something,” Smith said.
The ranking can feel even better when you attend a private school that has a student population of around 900, compared with public schools like Lexington and Dutch Fork high schools that have around 1,900 students.
Smith will have to get used to much larger class sizes next fall when he attends Clemson University.
His father, Bill, was a defensive end on the Tigers’ 1981 National Championship team, and Smith said he grew up going to games and attending Clemson’s football camps.
Smith said his decision, however, was based on more than just family ties.
“Everyone is family up there, and it’s one of those good college settings that I’ve always wanted to be a part of,” Smith said. “The coaches and the players, they’re all Godly men and they’ll basically be your family away from your family.”
Smith used to be concerned that coming from a private school would make it difficult for him to get noticed, but he said his ideas of being recruited out of a smaller school have changed since committing to Clemson.
“I thought it would be really hard to try and get recruited since you never see big college coaches at (private) high school games,” he said. “I did feel like I was at a disadvantage with that.”
One of the many football camps he attended eased his mind.
“One year at Clemson’s football camp I heard Dabo Swinney say that if you’re good, no matter what level you’re at, you’ll play,” Smith said.
Smith said Swinney’s remarks made him believe he could play at the next level. Smith said he began putting film of his plays on the Internet and sending film to college coaches to get his name out there.
Hammond head coach Erik Kimrey said Smith’s proactive efforts helped him greatly in getting exposure, despite coming from a school the size of Hammond.
Smith doesn’t just impress on the gridiron. He excels in the classroom, too.
He has a 3.3 cumulative GPA and takes AP courses, with history and English being his two favorite subjects. Smith said he loves learning about the different wars in history, especially in American history. He also prefers the more open format of English assignments.
“You can, kind of, create your own ideas about a story and there’s not really a right or wrong answer,” he said. “You say why you think it’s right and you explain and if it’s valid the teacher agrees. It’s not like math where X has to equal Y.”
Smith said he is excited to get to Clemson but knows he will have to work hard on and off the field.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge because, it’s like, high school (football) is here and the college intensity is way up here and everyone is competing all the time,” he said.
Academically, Smith is undecided on what he will study at Clemson but said he’ll be ready for what he’ll have to do to excel in the classroom.
“Clemson has a great program for their student-athletes, they’re top-10 in the country for it every year,” Smith said. “They always hit on graduating their players as their big priority, so I know I’m going to be fine because even if you’re struggling they’ll line you up with tutors and help push you for that degree.”
Smith said he also would like to participate in the ROTC program at Clemson if he has the time. After graduation, he’s considering a career in the Air Force.
His ultimate goal is to be a pararescue jumper, and he’s approaching this goal much like his goal of playing college football.
“It’s a lot of hard work and you never know if you’re going to get in or not, but that’s what I’m shooting for,” he said.