LAURINBURG — Scotland High School senior Manny Smith was all smiles as he signed his letter to play Division I college football for North Carolina Central University.
Manny, along with seven of his teammates, inked their names to play collegiate football on National Signing Day surrounded by their parents, siblings and coaches.
North Carolina Central is a Division I program that plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and is broken down into two divisions — North and South. The Eagles compete in the South Division against schools from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina including Florida A&M University, South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T.
The North Division features teams from Baltimore, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C., schools competing in that division include Howard University, Norfolk State University and Delaware State University.
NC Central finished the 2017 season with a 7-4 record and were 5-3 in MEAC play. In December, the Eagles promoted former assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and safeties coach Granville Eastman to head coach. Eastman replaces former head coach Jerry Mack, who left NC Central to accept the offensive coordinator position at Rice University.
With a defensive minded coach at the helm, Manny knew NC Central would be a good fit for him.
“I’ve built a great relationship with the defensive back coach and the strength and conditioning coach. That was the main thing I was looking for out of my options — relationships with the coaches,” he said.
Manny plans to major in pharmaceutical science and purse a career as a pharmacist. His thought process in choosing a career in the medical field was simple.
“I want to make a whole lot of money,” he said with a smile.
The 6-foot 2-inch senior was the only returning starter in the Scots secondary this past season and head coach Richard Bailey looked to him to be a leader.
“Manny was a three-year starter for us and was another coach on the field for us,” Bailey said. “He is one of the smartest football players I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching.”
Manny finished his senior campaign with 46 solo tackles, averaging 3.5 per game, two interceptions, 10 deflected passes and one blocked punt. One of his two interceptions was a pick six against Lumberton. Manny jumped the route and intercepted a pass from Pirates quarterback Braylan Grice and took it to the house 35 yards for the touchdown.
NC Central is located in Durham and is about an hour and 45 minutes from Laurinburg, which Manny said was just far enough from home for him but said if he ever needed anything he could count on his parents to be there.
“I’m prepared for it and if not, my parents are always there to help me out,” he said. “I love the campus and how everyone interacted with each other. My parents loved it too, they haven’t stopped talking about the school ever since I decided to go there.”
Manny didn’t grow up with a football in his hand, he didn’t start playing the sport until eighth grade but said once he caught the bug that was it he was hooked.
“It was always a dream to play college football but I didn’t start playing football until I was in eighth grade and from there I just fell in love with it,” he said.
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or [email protected]