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Army Launches Career of NFL All-Time Rusher

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Released 6 August 2010


1Emmitt Smith’s quest to break the NFL all-time rushing record started with a 70-yard touchdown run from scrimmage on the very first play of his very first game in organized football back in 1977. As quarterback for The Salvation Army Mini-Mites in Pensacola, Florida, 8-year-old Emmitt took the snap and ran straight up the middle to score against Ensley Park, another team in the 6-to-8-year-old age division.


Immediately, Coach Steve Vick knew he had something special on his hands.


“No matter where the guy hiked the ball he could catch it. And that’s really why he became the quarterback was because he had such great hands.” says Vick. “That very first day … at practice, we knew he was going to be special.”


 The 70-yard run was one of many touchdown carries for the future Dallas Cowboy and Arizona Cardinal that season, making him the star player of the Army team. But his notability went beyond his coaches and teammates. Even at eight-years-old, the name Emmitt Smith began gaining public recognition, at least around Escambia County, Florida.


“In his first year of Mini-Mite football he was the talk of the league,” Vick says. “You couldn’t go anywhere without them talking about, ‘Have you seen the boy from The Salvation Army run the ball?’ ”


 Had it not been for The Salvation Army, many kids like Emmitt would not have been able to play in an organized youth sports league. To level the playing field for needy youngsters, the Army paid all league fees and provided the uniforms and equipment – sometimes even shoes – as well as transportation, charging not a dime for participation.


Like most children who lived nearby, Emmitt came to the community center everyday after school. The Army provided a safe place for kids to gather, make friends and participate in activities they couldn’t afford to do otherwise.

1“There always was a lesson that you could learn at The Salvation Army,” Emmitt says. “One thing about The Salvation Army, when they received kids they received them as their own. … [The community center] was there not necessarily just for recreational [activities] but for learning-skills and all those things as well.”


Vick respects Emmitt Smith for many reasons: for winning three Super Bowl rings, for earning a college degree, for breaking the NFL’s all-time rushing record. But more noteworthy to Vick is the fact that his one-time 8-year-old protégé has remained true to himself and to the values he was taught as a child.


“I think that more important than breaking the all-time leading rushing record is the fact that he's still a good person,” Vick says. “When I see him on TV and when I hear him talk I can still see that little eight-year-old kid with that smile on his face and that look in his eyes. He's not changed a whole lot. He’s still Emmitt Smith. To me that’s impressive.”


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