Emmitt Smith is an NFL Hall of Famer; he has the NFL all-time rushing record; he won MVP awards and Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys.
But before those accolades, Smith was a Gatorade National High School Football Player of the Year, an award he says put him on the road to greatness.
Smith joined Gatorade officials Wednesday in Fort Worth to present two area high school track and field athletes national Gatorade awards. Discus and shot put thrower Shelbi Vaughan, from Mansfield Legacy, and sprinter Abraham Hall, from South Grand Prairie, were presented Track and Field Athlete of the Year awards in a ceremony at the Omni Hotel.
"It gave me the opportunity to dream," said Smith, who flew to California to watch a Super Bowl as a part of his Gatorade player of the year experience. "Gatorade afforded me that opportunity, a chance to sit in the stands in Pasadena, Calif., and dream about what my life could be like through sports."
Smith, who won his Gatorade award at Pensacola, Fla., Escambia High School for 1987, surprised both high schoolers, who thought they would be interviewed at the presentation without a celebrity guest. When Smith walked up behind them and tapped them on the shoulders, Hall had to leave the room.
"He came out of nowhere," Hall said. "I had to leave, come back in and start over. He's such an incredible guy. I was still shocked that he was here, but I was able to finally say hey."
Vaughan was also speechless at first.
"I was laughing and smiling, but I could barely get any words out," Vaughan said. "I was so excited."
The award adds to an already incredible month for Vaughan, who recently returned from Eugene, Ore., where she competed in the USA Olympic Track and Field Trials.
"The past few weeks have been crazy with trips to California, Indiana and Oregon," said Vaughan, who finished fourth in the discus. "I've been home maybe three days. But it's been amazing."
Vaughan is committed to play volleyball at Texas A&M and walk on to the Aggies' track and field team. Hall is headed to West Point. Both, Smith said, have an opportunity to impact many lives.
"With these two trophies right here comes a great deal of responsibility, not only to yourself and the colleges you will go to, but to your communities," said Smith, who was the second-ever Gatorade National Football Player of the Year.
Smith addressed the two for about five minutes. Then he sat, with a wide smile, as Vaughan and Hall each thanked multiple friends, family members and coaches. Hall even thanked his barber.
"He keeps the money-maker going," Hall said, laughing.
Both athletes, along with football winner Johnathan Gray from Aledo, will fly to California in July, where the overall male and female Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year will be named.
Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760