GEORGIA TECH NOTEBOOK: Former Deerfield nemesis Smelter going back to football at Ga. Tech

After choosing baseball over football out of high school at Tattnall Square, DeAndre Smelter put his pads away once he got to Atlanta. But now — with two years of football eligibility left — Smelter has decided to pick back up the sport and recently joined the Yellow jackets’ football team as a WR. (Georgia Tech/Special to The Herald)

After choosing baseball over football out of high school at Tattnall Square, DeAndre Smelter put his pads away once he got to Atlanta. But now — with two years of football eligibility left — Smelter has decided to pick back up the sport and recently joined the Yellow jackets’ football team as a WR. (Georgia Tech/Special to The Herald)

ATLANTA — Former Tattnall Square star DeAndre Smelter has a long way to go. But Smelter, who will join the Georgia Tech football team as a receiver after playing three years with the baseball team, likes the progress he's made.

“I feel I've definitely held my own (in seven-on-seven passing drills)," Smelter said after practice this week.

Smelter has been going through strength and conditioning workouts with the team as well as participating in weekly seven-on-seven workouts. His addition could prove critical — receiver is a position where departures and injuries have severely thinned out depth.

After high school — where Smelter was a thorn in the side of the Deerfield football and baseball program for four years — he was offered scholarships for football by Tech, Auburn, South Carolina and Georgia, among others. But Smelter, who will begin his fourth academic year at Tech, chose baseball and last played organized football in the fall of 2009.

“It's been a few years, but I feel like it's coming back,” said Smelter, who mostly pitched for the Yellow Jackets’ baseball team. “It's definitely helped I haven't been, like, not competing or not doing anything for years.”

With help from quarterbacks Vad Lee and Justin Thomas and receiver Darren Waller, Smelter has been learning the Tech offense. He has also focused on change-of-direction drills, as three seasons of baseball have not required him to do much of that.

“It's definitely going to be a learning curve,” said Smelter, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 223 pounds. “I definitely don't want, after every play call, to be like, 'Hey, Vad or Justin, what do I run here? Do I run this or that?’ ”

Smelter has two years of eligibility remaining for football and one for baseball. In the spring, when he decided to try football, he and coach Paul Johnson agreed that he'll go on scholarship for football for one year and re-evaluate after that.

“It's really pretty awesome because a lot of people don't get the opportunity to even play a (Division I) sport,” Smelter said. “And for me being out of the game and still having the opportunity, it's great.”

FOOTBALL HONORS: Defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu and cornerback Jemea Thomas of Fitzgerald were named to the 75-player watch list for the Bednarik Award, given to the nation's top defensive player.

Tech was one of 16 schools to have multiple players named to the list. Playing outside linebacker last season,

Attaochu finished third in the ACC in sacks with 10, while Thomas had a team-high four interceptions last season and was second on the team with 86 total tackles.

On Friday, defensive back Jamal Golden was named to the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the most versatile player in college football. Last year, Golden was the only player in the country to rank in the top 10 in both punt return and kickoff return average.

FORMER GEORGIA TECH TENNIS STAR GAINS ENTRY TO ATP TOUR EVENT IN ATLANTA: Former Tech tennis player Juan Spir received a wild card into the singles qualifier for the BB&T Atlanta Open, which will be held July 20-28 at Atlantic Station. He's the third Tech player to receive an invite into the qualifier following Guillermo Gomez (2011) and Kevin King (2011, 2012). Spir was a three-time All-America doubles player.

Playing a challenger event in Winnetka, Ill., last week, Spir reached the quarterfinals in doubles with King, his former Tech partner.

Tech’s prized QB recruit refuses to let diabetes slow him

ATLANTA — Georgia Tech's prized quarterback recruit says he's learned much from his battle with an incurable disease.

Matthew Jordan has flourished in football despite being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes around six years ago. The three-star prospect from Jackson, Ala., recently committed to Georgia Tech, selecting the school over 17 others.

"The moral of the story is don't let anybody tell you that you can't do something," said his father, Rodney Jordan. "I promise you, if you want something bad enough, you can do it. You've just got to want it bad enough. If somebody tells you that you can't do something, they are dead wrong."

The quarterback's story is one of triumph but also enormous fear and doubt. As Jordan prepares to enter the spotlight of big-time college athletics in 2014, it's also a story that is largely unwritten.

"I just think that God put this on me for a reason," said Jordan, who gives himself six injections a day. "He knew that I would fight through it, and I would strive to make the best of it. And I could encourage others in the same situation."

NFL quarterback Jay Cutler and professional golfer Scott Verplank are athletes who compete at the highest levels of sports despite the disease.

While growing up in the rural Alabama town located 300 miles southwest of Atlanta, Jordan had dreams of playing football. Those dreams took a hit when he began having unexplained health problems at 11 years old.

"I just kept having to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, and I was real sluggish," recalled Jordan, who alarmed his parents when he lost 10 pounds in a week.

After doctors ran a battery of tests, it was discovered that Jordan's blood-sugar level had sky-rocketed to 486. The normal range is between 80 and 110. The wide-eyed kid was rushed to the local hospital.

"When you hear that your son has juvenile diabetes, all kinds of things run through your mind," said his mother, Lisa Jordan. "You get upset. Then, you find a way to overcome that, and you seek out some kind of strength to go on. Matthew has been a blessing."

There were some tense and tearful moments, the quarterback admits, when he wasn't sure about his future in football, or pretty much anything.

"At first, I was sad, as any 11-year-old kid would be finding out that he had diabetes," Jordan said. "I thought I couldn't eat sugar. I thought I couldn't play sports. I was really depressed when I first got diagnosed.

"Then my doctor told me I could do anything I wanted and live a healthy life as long as I took my medicine. At that point, I made a choice that it was not going to stop me from doing all the things that I want to do in life."

But there's a difference from saying something and actually doing it. Jordan needed a couple of gentle but firm pushes from his father to hold onto the lofty football aspirations.

When Jordan was first diagnosed in August 2007, he was already registered to play youth football that season. Jordan would've never thought about quitting sports before, but diabetes filled him with doubt.

"That first year of little league, he wanted to quit because he knew it would be hard, but I wouldn't let him," Rodney said. "I made him play the whole year. The next season, he started on his own but wanted to quit again. I made him finish again.

"I never let him quit because I knew, once he got over the emotional block and adjusted to the diabetes, he would be fine. After that second year, I never had to make him play football again. He just knew he could do it from then on."

Last season as a junior at Jackson High School, Jordan began to blossom as a player. He completed 83 of 143 passes for 1,324 yards and 15 touchdowns, while rushing for more than 700 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught three touchdown passes, while splitting time at quarterback with a teammate.

Jackson coach Danny Powell says you would never know that his star player had diabetes unless somebody told you.

"It doesn't seem to bother him at all," Powell said. "It doesn't affect his stamina or anything like that. He's not treated special in any way. He manages it so well that you'd never know."

Jordan one medicine at 9 a.m., then self-administers shots after every one of his five or six meals throughout the day. If he feels like his blood-sugar is low during a game, he sips on a soft drink or eats a candy bar for a boost.

"To me, it's not a big deal," Jordan said. "When people find out about the diabetes, they are really surprised with how well I handle it. But I don't dwell on it."

Jordan's attitude is so infectious that some parents have asked him to speak to their diabetic kids. Jordan knows this will probably turn into a lifelong ministry, and he embraces it.

"I tell the kids 'You can get through this, just look what I've done. I'm committed to a Division I college football program, and I'm playing in the ACC next year. There are no limits. You can do anything you set your mind to do.'"

Sometimes, the older folks are just as impressed as the younger ones. "Jordan is an example that you can have diabetes and go on with the regular activities of life," Powell said. "He truly is an inspiration."