January 30, 2024

Sammie Smith Shares the Faith That Changed His Life

3.2 min read| Published On: January 30th, 2024|

By Cynthia McFarland

Sammie Smith Shares the Faith That Changed His Life

3.2 min read| Published On: January 30th, 2024|

Sammie Smith shares the faith that changed his life. 

Sammie Smith is heading to the Harris Chain of Lakes on a brisk winter morning beneath clear blue skies to see if the specs are biting before taking a teenage friend out on the water. 

“I love fishing and it’s a sphere of ministry since many boys and girls are into competitive fishing,” says Sammie.

This former NFL player’s personal mission is to be impactful to anyone who crosses his path—especially young people.

“I want to be a changemaker for Christ. I’m so grateful I get to share
my journey,” he says.

Sammie’s book 

My Name is not 18121-018, will be officially released in August 2024, but is available now through Namenot18121018.my.canva.site

Flying high

The Florida native was raised in Zellwood and graduated from Apopka High School in 1985. 

Sammie attended Florida State University, where his talent on the football field as a running back prompted him to leave school a year early to enter the NFL draft in 1989.

“It was a lifelong dream to play in the NFL. To be a first round draft pick and be taken by Coach Shula in my home state was really special,” says Sammie, who played for the Dolphins 1989-‘91 with quarterback Dan Marino.

During the 1991 preseason, a knee injury sidelined Sammie for a while. He was traded to the Denver Broncos in 1992, but another injury ended his football career.

He came home to Florida and started a company helping people achieve home ownership.

“That was going well, but I’d reconnected with some old friends and made a really bad choice,” recalls Sammie, who was arrested and sentenced to seven years in federal prison on a drug conviction.

Sitting in the Orange County Jail the night of his arrest in September 1995, he felt he’d lost the platform God had given him to influence others.

“I’d allowed the enemy to steal that. I accepted my responsibility. It was one of the worst days of my life and also one of the best,” he says.

“In the jail cell that night I asked God to come in and change my heart. I believe Jesus was there. I had a peace I can’t explain. I knew I was going to be okay and there was going to be light on the other side.”

In 1998, he was called to the warden’s office, where he heard the warden talking to two familiar voices: FSU coaches Bobby Bowden and Jim Gladden, who’d recruited him.

Those coaches asked him to record a message of advice for current players.

“When I walked out of that office, I was empowered. Here were two men who’d been impactful in my life, who saw value in me and saw an opportunity for me to be influential, despite where I was in life,” says Sammie. “I realized God could still use me.”

Restoration and purpose

After completing his sentence, Sammie won restoration of his civil rights from the State of Florida in June 2010.  He was inducted into the Florida State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.

Since 2012, Sammie has worked for the nonprofit organization Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), first as Lake County representative, then at the University of Mississippi.

During his work for FCA at Ole Miss, he encouraged college football players to finish their degrees and decided to practice what he preached. At age 53, he returned to college and completed his degree in multidisciplinary studies in spring 2020. 

Sammie returned to Florida in May 2023, settling in Mount Dora, where he lives with his wife Shalonda. They share their home with their 24-year-old son Creshawn, an Ole Miss grad, and their daughter Sania, a junior at Mount Dora Christian. His oldest daughter Jenee lives in Sanford and has given him two grandsons.

Today, Sammie works with FCA Outdoors, which focuses on non-traditional youth sports such as competitive fishing and hosts a two-day bass tournament in Lake County each summer.

He enjoys taking youth out on his pontoon boat, teaching them to fish and sharing the Gospel during conversations on the lake.

“At this time in the world, more than ever we need to be pouring into the lives of young people,” he says. “We have to be mindful and bold and share our faith.”

Sammie is regularly booked for speaking engagements. His goal is to be a positive influence wherever those talks take him,
from high schools to prisons.

“I let my life be transparent when talking with youth so they realize you can still win even if you’ve made mistakes,” he says.

“I’m in one of the best places in my life,” says Sammie. “I enjoy being in ministry and meeting the people God puts in my sphere of influence.”  

Check out our interview with Sammie Smith on the SportsHub Podcast

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About the Author: Cynthia McFarland

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