Editor’s comments : This story was first published in November. It was updated after he won the Heisman Trophy.

The skinny girl from Amita, Louisiana, stood on the floor of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans and saw Livonia celebrate the state championship of the 3A-class. There are tears in his eyes, but he doesn’t look away. There, on the other side of the field, he saw players kissing and high-fiving each other. And there he is, frozen on the losing side, in jogging pants, with a broken collarbone, refusing to leave.

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Zephaniah Powell sat in the stands six years ago and noticed how badly this guy was hurt. Someone who did not play the whole game because of an injury, but who was just as committed as everyone else on the field that day. The coach of Sumner’s rival school, Powell, knew exactly who he was: DeVonta Smith, or as he was better known in Tangipahoa County, Tay-Tay.

Smith, Powell remembers, was hungry in his eyes.

And a few months later, when Powell was hired as director of the Amit school program, he learned exactly what that hunger meant. This meant that Smith had to grab every quarterback on the roster and go to him after practice. This meant I had to do extra squats and strength exercises at the gym in the evening. That means he ran the stadiums over the weekend.

It was groundbreaking work, Powell remembers.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Smith has 56 strikes for 759 meters and eight touchdowns for Alabama. Roy K. Miller/Sportswire Icon

A nice little tilt, he said of Russell Memorial Stadium. It looks good.

Powell immediately recognized that while Smith was his best player, he was always trying to move on. Smith was determined to transform his body and exceed expectations. Then, like today, he refused to flee defeat – the challenge.

A year ago, Smith could have left Alabama. In three seasons with Tuscaloosa, he has already picked up 118 assists and scored 23 touchdowns, including a school record 14 points in 2019. Thanks to him, the Crimson Tide won the national championship, immortalized in paintings hung in living rooms throughout the state. In other words: He had nothing to prove.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Game

1:02

Crimson Tide receiver DeVonta Smith joins the greats of Alabama by tying Amari Cooper for the TD record in a victory over Mississippi State.

The big receivers he came to school with, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, as well as the quarterback and his teammate Tua Tagovailoa, were already in the NFL. But something told Smith to stay.

We never saw him shed a tear when he lost to LSU last season and beat Auburn and Alabama out of the school football play-offs, but Smith told us exactly what they meant to him when he announced his return for his last season:

I have business to do and the only way to do it is to stay another year.

Powell one day walked through the hallways of the school when he suddenly saw his star receiver stop, fell to the ground and did 10 push-ups while his classmates were maneuvering around him.

Tay, what’s going on? Powell asked.

Coach, answered Smith, just trying to get bigger.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Smith currently ranks 8th out of ESPN in the best ranking available for the Draft 2021 NFL. Athletics in Alabama

Powell nods.

I understand, he says. As long as you’re not late for class.

Smith was just over six feet tall, but then weighed 140 pounds. His weight was regularly mocked, Powell said, and instead of upsetting him, Smith took it as a challenge.

Every time he saw his reflection, whether it was in a mirror, a window, or a polished car door, Smith dropped everything and did 10 push-ups.

That’s what he was, Powell said. He called Smith a quiet, cerebral child. Others played checkers, he said. Smith plays chess and thinks several moves forward.

A common comparison Smith got is that his style is reminiscent of a young Marvin Harrison. Like the former star receiver of the Indianapolis Colts, Smith is not physically imposing, but he is ruthlessly efficient.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Game

0:45

Alabama wins the CFP championship against Georgia. Tua Tagovailoa finds DeVonta Smith for a 41-yard touchdown in extra time.

And that’s a good comparison, Mr. Powell said. But for us, DeVonta Jerry Rice was 2.0. Because Jerry Rice was also from Mississippi Valley State University: He wasn’t the best, he wasn’t the fastest, he wasn’t the best. But once on the soccer field, he was technically fine.

Smith’s routes were so specific. He had such strong arms. He was on his feet so fast, and the way he walked, Powell said, was so easy.

It’s like walking on pillows, he said. You can barely hear his feet.

Billy Napier, a former wide receiver coach in Alabama, remembers the sound of those footsteps well. Napier recruited Smith for four years, he said, and tried to beat LSU at home and eventually succeeded.

Napier remembers the first time Smith came camping in Alabama while he was still in college. Smith’s size was a big question mark, and the coaches were concerned about his durability. But the immaterial things were there, Napier said.

Physical strength comes from playing defense. He had a hardness that seemed to be ingrained in him.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Those whose paths cross notice the hunger in his eyes and his devotion to the game. John David Mercer/USA Today Sports

What you saw was a very experienced man who could open and play and was very productive, regardless of the level of talent, said Napier, who is now head coach of Louisiana. Even at his young age you can let him run into the best blankets and he can open up.

Powell said: Because of his weak physique, people look down on him. But DeVonte likes it because he has six strokes and 200 meters the next time he goes out.

Napier was impressed by the size of Smith’s hand.

Mike Locksley, who will replace Napier as coach of Alabama’s receivers, said it was as if Smith never threw a pass that was within his reach. In the first year, Smith faced future pros Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick, who were older than he was, and he kept his male, more than his fair share of balls 50-50.

When the ball was in the air, Locksley said he would find a way to get it back and play.

Napier had just spent a few weeks as head coach in Louisiana, trying to build up a staff from the ground up, when he interrupted his work to see a game in Atlanta go into overtime.

He went back and forth between Alabama and Georgia all night, and now his old team was on the ropes, with a field goal with the national championship on the line. Tagovailoa admitted an unfortunate sack and the hope disappeared.

Then, at the second attempt and on 26th, Napier saw rookie Tagovailoa fall back and find another rookie, Smith, who walked on the sidelines and scored the decisive touchdown.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Game

0:23

Mack Jones falls back and finds DeVonta Smith for a 42-yard pass to Alabama.

Napier was proud.

He said we’re putting a lot of effort into it.

Powell was at home in bed in Louisiana watching the game on television when Smith made history. Powell screamed and sent his sleeping wife into a panic. They’ve had a new baby. What happened? She asked. Is everything okay?

Powell kept screaming, pointing at the television. Then he called the other staff coaches and suddenly everyone was crying.

It’s Tay-Tay.

Is it really?

Fault! The file name is not specified. Game

1:12

Get all the looks, calls and reactions to the Tua Tagovailoa touchdown pass from DeVonte Smith that earned Alabama the GVB National Championship.

It was, and Powell said it was proof that Smith was keeping a cool head. Although Smith didn’t play much in the first year, he never succumbed to the frustration. He went to work and asked to be assigned to special forces as a shooter to cover a bet.

A frustrated kid couldn’t face the University of Georgia and catch the winning touchdown, Powell said. You wouldn’t lock up a disturbed child.

A year after that momentous event, Smith was still locked up. Then he told reporters he didn’t want to talk about the Georgia game and his touchdown. He said he didn’t care and it was a new year. We’re moving forward.

And that’s what Smith is in a nutshell. He may not be as clear as his former teammates Jeudy and Ruggs. Earlier this season he got lost in the excitement around Jalen Waddle, who was just as dynamic as he was in university football.

Fault! The file name is not specified. Smith, left, and the Alabama receivers haven’t missed a single shot since the defeat of Jaylen Weddle by Tennessee in the season opener. Kent Gidley/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Then, after four games and an early season, Weddle came out for the year with a broken ankle against Tennessee, leaving Smith behind as the last of the Ryde-outs.

According to CBS, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian Smith calls the rubber man because of the way he can contour his body to catch passes. But the loss of Waddle gave new meaning to the nickname: Smith, a senior in a class consisting mainly of first and second year students, had to keep the group together.

He doesn’t say much. He never did. But he set a good example by going back to work. A week after the game in Tennessee, Smith made a name for himself with 11 strikes for 203 yards and four touchdowns against Mississippi State.

If there’s a trademark next to Smith’s strong arms, it’s his consistency. You can look, Powell said, and you’ll see it doesn’t matter who he’s up against.

If it’s West Carolina to Clemson, he says they get the case.

Fault! The file name is not specified. DeVonte Smith’s QB Mac Jones scored four touchdowns in Saturday’s victory at Mississippi State. Gary Cosby Jr/Taskalooza News via USA TODAY Sports

To win the title, Smith accumulated 1,561 yards and 20 touchdowns received, including three goals against Notre Dame in the university football playoffs.

As winner of the Heisman Trophy, he kept his legacy alive.

The people of Tuscaloosa now call him Smitty, and he is no longer a beanstalk doing push-ups in the hallway, but he has gained a respectable 175 pounds. But Powell said he was still Tay-Tay to everyone in Tangipahoa County.

He could never win a state championship for Amit. But he won the title in Alabama, and he wants another one.

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