The former Venice High star and 5A “Mr. Football” of Florida made a spectacular play that turned the game around for the Tigers Saturday night in Auburn, Ala. when he scooped up the fumble of punter Eric Wilbur and sped 15 yards for the touchdown that put team ahead, 18-17, to stay.
This happened four minutes into the second half and the shock waves seemed to reverberate the rest of the night at Jordan-Hare Stadium and the Tigers went on to beat previously undefeated Florida, 27-17.
Smith punctuated the moment with a forward flip as he dove into the end zone, something that was his trademark as a star running back for the Indians – but a maneuver that could have drawn a penalty for celebration.
“My special teams coach told me, ‘if you had gotten a penalty, then you didn’t even need to bother coming back over here on the sideline,” Smith said Sunday after practice. “But you didn’t – so, good flip!”
Smith said he and his coaches spotted several flaws in Florida’s punt team and that led to his notion that he could back up his prediction. Lining over the middle, Smith fixed his eyes on the ball as it was snapped accurately by Florida’s James Smith.
Wilbur dropped the ball the first time and picked it up. When the Florida punter attempted to kick it left-footed, it was blocked by Auburn’s Jerraud Powers. Smith scooped up the loose ball and made his run to glory, flying through the air like Superman for the final yards.
“I kept my eyes on the ball and never took them off it,” said jubilant Smith, who told his parents after the game that he was “pumped.”
“Pumped” for two good reasons, perhaps.
1)Coach Tommy Tuberville had chewed the Auburn team out at halftime, telling the players to “grow up” and accusing them of being “afraid of Florida.” Smith says his coach told them he “didn’t care about execution – just go out there and hit somebody in the mouth.” He told them if they were afraid of Florida, "then I'll find some players who aren't and put them in the game."
And 2)It was sweet redemption for Smith after being snubbed by the Gators. Except for a quirk, one of the heroes of Auburn’s victory over the Florida Gators might have been playing for the other side.
“Tre really liked Coach (Steve) Spurrier,” said Phil Mitchum of Venice, who along with Tre’s mother Patty had just driven back from Auburn on Sunday. “And Tre liked coach
Spurrier. But when coach (Ron) Zook came in, things changed.”
At Auburn, Smith didn’t get the starting job at tailback that he had coveted, but he did have one game to remember: The day he ran for 100 yards in a victory over Alabama.
After an injury to his shoulder, Smith was give a medical red-shirt and didn’t play again until his third season. As a reserve and special teams player, Smith saw limited action, but learned how to contribute.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you just have to do what you can do.”
The bliss of Saturday night’s win, however which returned the Tigers to a prominent No. 4 BCS rating also gave him a sense of accomplishment. “It felt great,” said Smith.
Never known as a scholar before, Smith decided to settle down and study after two years at Auburn. He has graduated with a degree in computer sciences and carries a 3.5 grade average as he goes for his masters.
One reason for his success in the classroom has been Elaine Ellis, his girlfriend and a former Venice High student who attended the University of Florida for one year before transferring to Auburn.
“He’s got a great girlfriend. Elaine has been a great influence on Tre,” said Mitchum, a comment which Tre agrees wholeheartedly with.
“She’s the reason my grade point average has gone up,” Tre said.
Tre Smith’s grade point average isn’t the only thing that has gone up at Auburn. His stock with Tiger fans is soaring these days, too.
"The Boys From Old Florida: Inside Gator Nation"
By Buddy Martin
Buddy's new book offers new stories from every living Florida coach and other keen insights to the so-called "Modern Era." Find out how to obtain your autographed copy at buddymartin.org, or pick up one at most book stores. Buddy and Scot Brantley co-host "The Tail-Gator Show" four hours before kickoff of every game in the state on ESPN Radio, Ocala/Gainesville.