Former College Football Player Rescued After Being Stranded at Sea on a Kayak for 11 Hours

Former South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley found himself lost at sea last week after taking his kayak out off the coast of Grayton Beach, Florida.

Smelley took his boat out at around 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 28, ostensibly to go fishing. The former player, 37, soon found himself being pushed further out to sea and ended up about eight miles out to sea.

“I was in a big, heavy kayak. And I got out there and right off the shore, the wind was just whipping and a lot stronger than it was at shore,” Smelley said, according to People magazine. “I wish there was a story that a giant shark dragged me out or I was battling a sea monster — but it was really just nature — it was just the wind.”

Smelley, who played for the Gamecocks from 2006 to 2008, added that he felt his body helped put him further from shore.

“My body was sitting up tall, and I was basically just a big sail,” he said. “I was giving it everything I could and there was a long period of time where I was at the mercy of the wind.”

Eventually, Smelly’s wife became worried that he had not returned from his boating. She eventually called the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, which in turn called the Coast Guard to search for the former player.

“We’re at the beach a lot, and I’ve done a lot of fishing, and I’m real comfortable in the ocean,” Smelley insisted.

“I wouldn’t say I was necessarily scared, but there were some times where, especially as the sun started going down, and I had seen the rescue helicopters fly over me pretty close by a few times, but they didn’t see me, that I thought I was going to spend the night in the ocean,” he added.

“I had just caught a fish and was preparing to clean it to give me some energy to try to keep paddling back in when the rescue helicopter pulled in,” he said.

Chris Smelley of the South Carolina Gamecocks throws a pass against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 8, 2008 in...

Chris Smelley, #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks, throws a pass against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 8, 2008, in Columbia, South Carolina. South Carolina defeated the Razorbacks 34-21. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The player who became the coach of the American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, joked that his wife would not let him forget about the incident any time soon.

“Yeah, right at first she was a little upset — in a loving way,” he said. “But yeah, I went out with no phone and no life jacket, so I think the lesson learned in just understanding that when you’re going out in a situation like that, safety is at the top of your mind.”

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