As with many teenagers, E.J. Smith doesn’t want to be just like his dad. He wants to be better.
However, when your father is a Dallas Cowboys legend, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, and the leading rusher in NFL history, that goal becomes a monumental challenge.
“I’m Emmitt Smith’s son. But I’m more than that,” E.J. Smith said. “I want to be Emmitt Smith 2.0.”
He knows he will be in the spotlight during his upcoming junior season at Jesuit, not only because of his family legacy but because of the way he turned heads a year ago.
E.J. rushed for three touchdowns during the second half of a season-opening loss to DeSoto in his debut at the varsity level, spurring a furious comeback by the Rangers that fell just short.
“We knew we could be better in the second half,” he said. “It kind of showed whether I was ready. I didn’t want my teammates to lose trust in me.”
For the year, E.J. finished with 1,303 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. He also caught 43 passes, seven of which resulted in scores — leading a high-powered offense that averaged 46.8 points per game and reached the area round of the Class 6A Division II playoffs.
“He’s done a great job,” said Jesuit head coach Brandon Hickman. “He’s a dynamic player. He can catch the ball and run it down your throat.”
During this offseason, E.J. has focused on physical conditioning, but also on diversifying his skills such as reading defenses and blocking for teammates. Hickman points out the improved leadership of his soft-spoken star running back.
“He’s one of the most humble kids I’ve ever coached,” Hickman said. “He’s very positive, and when someone gets down, he’s always there to pick them up.”
E.J. was born Emmitt James Smith IV in May 2002, a few months before his father broke Walter Payton’s all-time rushing yardage record during his final season with the Cowboys.
Before he began playing flag football, he started playing golf at age 2. Later, he even quit football for a brief time to focus on baseball, track, and soccer. Yet by the time he got to middle school, the focus went back to the gridiron.
E.J. is too young to remember many of Emmitt Smith’s playing days, even though the resemblance on the field is uncanny, from the famous No. 22 on his jersey to the way he cradles the ball in his hands.
E.J. is reminded of this all the time, of course, while eagerly awaiting the day when he won’t always be thought of as Emmitt’s son first and foremost.
“It’s a nice compliment. It’s great to have that name,” E.J. said. “He blessed me with a gift, but I’ve had to work hard for this.”
Emmitt Smith attends every Jesuit game and watches film extensively with his son. Hickman said Emmitt Smith readily admits that E.J. has the potential to be even better than he was.
“I never taught you how to run the ball,” E.J. recalls his dad saying. “I never needed to.”