When Tyler Smith arrived at East Surry High School for his freshman year, playing all three major sports for the Cardinals was a foregone conclusion.
Smith immersed himself in workouts for the Cardinals’ football, basketball and baseball teams. He didn’t know which sport his natural talents would eventually gravitate to, but Smith wanted to make sure he gave all three a shot.
Four years later, Smith graduates from East Surry as one of the school’s most accomplished male athletes and with a baseball scholarship to pitch at East Carolina University. During his senior year in 2015-16, Smith won Northwest Conference Player of the Year in football and co-Player of the Year in baseball. He was also the runner-up in voting for the Northwest basketball version of the award, losing out to Mount Airy standout Clay Mounce.
He became only the second male at East Surry to win multiple player of the year awards in the same school year, matching Scott Meredith in 2014.
Smith capped things off on May 30 when he won his final piece of high school hardware, taking home the Male Athlete of the Year Award at the Surry County High Schools annual athletic banquet.
“This year was something I probably never could have dreamed of,” Smith said. “Having a great senior year with my friends that I’ve been playing with for years now, it was some of the best memories we’ve ever made together.”
When East Surry football coach David Diamont saw Smith play basketball for the Pilot Mountain Middle School team, Diamont saw an intelligent athlete who would make an impact at the high school level in all three sports.
However, Diamont never imagined Smith’s career would turn out this impactful. The former Cardinals quarterback’s ascension to this fantastic senior season was a rapid climb that started in his sophomore year.
“His body matured as a sophomore, but (Smith) didn’t stop there,” Diamont said. “He came into the summer before his junior year, put in the work, and had the time management skills that were necessary to really get the most out of his talents. He was a special kid to coach.”
That work ethic allowed Smith as a junior to earn the varsity quarterback job, start on the basketball team throughout the year, and serve as East Surry’s No. 2 pitcher in the spring. Those were his first seasons on the varsity football and baseball teams.
The time management skills also helped set him up for a college scholarship. He attended a variety of football and baseball camps in North Carolina, hoping to catch the eye of a college scout while also setting aside plenty of time to train with his East Surry coaches and teammates.
His terrific junior season on the mound for the Cardinals resulted in an invite to the NC Powerade State Games. Representing Region 7 last summer, Smith dazzled on the mound in front of college scouts inside UNC’s Boshamer Stadium.
Along with beating Mount Airy in football and Winston-Salem Prep in basketball during his junior season, pitching at the UNC baseball stadium during the State Games were Smith’s favorite memories from his time at East Surry.
Coaches from ECU, Liberty, UNC-Greensboro, Winthrop and UNC-Wilmington fell in love with his fastball that touched 91 miles per hour, which complemented a devastating slider. A couple weeks after the State Games, Smith visited UNCW and ECU, committing to the Pirates while spending time on the campus in Greenville. He signed his official letter of intent to play for the ECU on Nov. 13.
“The coaching staff just got my attention with how I’m going to become a better person and a better athlete,” Smith said. “They had a plan for me to improve myself on the field and as a student.”
The ECU coaches hope that Smith develops into a starting pitcher with the Pirates, thanks to his three-pitch arsenal from the right side. Of course, the Major League Baseball Draft is under way this weekend, and Smith has a chance to be selected in the later rounds on Saturday. Barring a surprise, he is settled with the idea of heading to school.
“I know there’s a shot I get drafted, but I’ve really just made up my mind that I’m going to go to ECU,” Smith said.
His East Surry baseball coach, Chad Freeman, believes the sky is the limit for Smith when he does arrive on campus at ECU.
“I think one thing that’s really going to help Tyler is now he can just put all of his attention on one sport,” Freeman said. “Tyler’s always had to kind of share the wealth with his focus, but now he can really just put everything he has into getting better at baseball.”
With all of the pressure and a future starting to take shape coming into his senior season, Smith kept his foot on the pedal. He led the Cardinals football team to a 13-1 record and the third round of the NCHSAA playoffs. Smith threw for 31 touchdowns and 2,729 yards while leading a pass-happy offense that Coach Diamont only felt comfortable to install because of Smith and the weapons surrounding him.
The East Surry basketball team relied on Smith for points and rebounds during his senior season. Smith was the Cardinals’ leading scorer with a deadly three-point stroke.
Finally, he wrapped up his career with a baseball team filled with youth, one that needed Smith to be the best pitcher in the conference. He went 7-3, but two of his losses were complete-game performances that the Cardinals dropped 1-0. His 0.51 ERA and 136 strikeouts in just 68 2/3 innings pitched show his true dominance during the season.
His desire to continue all three sports his senior season especially impressed Coach Diamont. Smith continued to work hard for his teammates and coaches, and that’s something Diamont believes will carry Smith to even more stardom in the future.
“I don’t know where the motivation comes from,” Diamont said. “But if he continues to find that drive and determination as he progresses at ECU, there’s no telling how good he can become. He did all of these things for a small school in Surry County. When he gets to the next level, I think the drive is going to become even greater, and that should be a scary sight for everyone else.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16