When you talk to Mississippi Valley State running back John Derrick Smith, you find out he’s a man of few words. But one thing he will tell you he’s always been close with his family. His passion for football developed as he grew up, and both of those factors led right here to Valley, where he is approaching his senior season.
Smith is the middle child of a close-knit family of five boys. He has some siblings in St. Louis now, but the bulk of his family remains in the Mississippi Delta. His older brothers played football up to the high school level, but he had the potential to make it in college. The proximity of Valley made coming here an easy choice.
“My family’s here,” Smith said. “They’re able to come and support me.”
A product of nearby Greenwood High School, he started three out of four seasons for the Bulldogs on both ends of the football and was selected MVP as a senior. That led to an opening at Mississippi Delta Community College, playing with the Trojans for two seasons.
But the high points of his interscholastic years didn’t exactly translate to his time in junior college. Playing time decreased and he rode the bench a lot.
So he thought about hanging up his cleats for good.
However, Smith received some strong support. “People in the community told me not to give up on it just yet. My family also didn’t want to see me give up, especially my mom.” Smith said. “I still had years left, and at some point, I won’t be able to play anymore.”
So he decided to come to Valley and try and walk on to the team. He made the squad and found a golden opportunity to revive his career.
The Delta Devils — normally a pass-oriented team — decided to utilize the run game more under first-year coach Vincent Dancy. Despite not starting, Smith led all running backs with 296 yards on the ground, adding 19 receptions and scoring four touchdowns.
“I worked hard, played my part and did what I could to help the team,” Smith said.
The season reignited the passion for football, and he’s ready to contribute more in his senior season.
“I’m hoping to gain 1,000 yards on the ground, and score more than I had last year. I expect to be in the end zone — that’s where I’m supposed to be,.” Smith said. He’s hoping those numbers will lead him to be All-SWAC.
Smith is a Health, Physical Education and Recreation major, and he’s hoping to turn that degree into an opportunity to coach football. And of course, he wants to do that in the Delta — the community he calls home.
“I would like to stay home and live around people I know.”
But he still has one more season in college left. Smith and his teammates are looking to leave MVSU on a high note and in a better place than when they arrived.
“We’re trying to come up,” he said. “We’re tired of being at the bottom, so we’ll be fighting to get back towards the top.
“No game is bigger than the next.”
Perhaps the local connection of Smith will be a key factor. This year’s team features 30 Mississippians on the roster — the most since 2012.
That season the Delta Devils finished with a record of 5-6. No team since has managed that mark in Itta Bena since.