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Former South Carolina quarterback Eric Smelley details harrowing experience after drifting out to sea in kayak


Former South Carolina quarterback Eric Smelley said he began to give up hope of being discovered when his kayak drifted miles off shore while fishing.

Smellie, now a high school football coach in Alabama, was rescued on March 28 after a U.S. Coast Guard search found him in the Gulf of Mexico. Smellie and his family were vacationing in Panama City Beach and he rented a kayak to go fishing that day.

However, after drifting out to sea due to strong winds that day, Smelly was trapped for more than 12 hours. He told The Tuscaloosa News that he lost some of his optimism when a Coast Guard helicopter flew over him and moved on. Thankfully, he found it soon after.

From the Tuscaloosa News:

“I turned around and started paddling,” he said. “When I first tried paddling, I knew I was in trouble.”

Smellie found himself in the water, with waves reaching 2 to 3 feet high and winds approaching 10 mph, the Coast Guard said, pushing him further out into the bay.

“It looked really calm, but when I got out of the car, the further out I went, the stronger the wind got,” Smellie said.

Smelley tried three times to return to shore, but still moved backwards.

“I just knew I had to wait until the wind finally calmed down or changed direction to give me at least a chance to paddle again,” he said.

When Smellie did not return that afternoon, his wife contacted the Walton County Sheriff’s Office. A search effort quickly followed.

It was not until just after 7 p.m. that a Coast Guard aircraft spotted Smellie, about eight miles from where he was supposed to be, having floated more than two miles offshore. A family friend who owned a boat also joined the search. Get closest to Smiley and pick him up as the sun sets.

“It’s getting very dark,” [Coast Guard Petty Officer Third Class Garrett] Hudspeth said: “…the timing of his discovery was really good because once the sun went down we were still out there looking, but it definitely adds a whole different ballgame.”

In an interview with ABC News earlier this weekSmellie said he was simply in “survival mode” while trapped in the bay.

“I feel very blessed. I feel filled with prayers and love and thank God it turned out well,” Smellie said.

Smellie, an Alabama native, signed with South Carolina in 2006 as a four-star recruit. He played three seasons for the Gamecocks, starting in 2008 when South Carolina went 7-6 and played in the Outback Bowl. He transferred to Alabama after that season and finished his college career playing baseball.



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