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Big Rapids, Mich. - The National Football Foundation (NFF) and College Football Hall of Fame recently announced the nominees for the induction into the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020 and one of the early greats from the Ferris State University football program is on the ballot.
Gideon Smith, who began his collegiate career with the Bulldogs as the school's first African-American player before moving onto Michigan State University, is among 76 players and five coaches from the Football Bowl Subdivision along with 101 players and 33 coaches from the divisional ranks on this year's ballot for potential induction. He was first listed on the hall of fame ballot two years ago.
Smith played at Ferris from 1910 to 1912. In those days, Ferris founder Woodbridge Ferris had a working agreement with what is now known as Hampton University in Virginia to bring about a dozen black students a year to Ferris. They were given college prep classes and then transferred on to places such as Michigan State and Michigan. Smith was among the students and discovered his athletic prowess at Ferris.
"It's an enormous honor to just be on the ballot when you think that more than 5.33 million people have played college football and only 1,010 players have been inducted," said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell. "The Hall's requirement of being a First-Team All-American creates a much smaller pool of only 1,500 individuals who are even eligible. So being in today's elite group means an individual is truly among the greatest to ever have played the game, and we are extremely proud to announce their names. We look forward to revealing the 2020 Class in January."
After initially playing on the college level for the Bulldogs, Smith went on to become Michigan State University's first black athlete. However, he is listed under the Divisional Coaching Candidate category for his career at Hampton University, where he coached from 1921-40. He led Pirates to the 1922 Black College National Championship and recorded four Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association titles and two unbeaten seasons in his coaching career. Smith remains the longest-tenured coach and second all-time in wins in Hampton history.
Smith was born in Norfolk County, Virginia, in 1889. According to author Tom Shanahan, who nominated him for the ballot two years ago, Virginia native Smith played at Ferris State University before transferring to then-Michigan State College in 1912 and played for coach John Macklin's Aggies from 1913-14.
Smith then went on to a brief pro career alongside Jim Thorpe with the Canton Bulldogs in 1915 and, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was the last African-American to play professionally during the pre-NFL years. Smith returned to East Lansing and graduated in 1916. He returned to Hampton as a football coach and assistant athletic director before his death in 1968 at age 78.
While establishing his name at upstart Michigan State, he led the school to its first two wins over a Michigan program that was already a national power in the 1913 and 1915 seasons. Smith was inducted into Michigan State's inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1992. He later received the American Football Coaches Association's Trailblazer Award posthumously in 2014.
The College Football Hall of Fame ballot was emailed to the more than 12,000 NFF members and current Hall of Famers whose votes will be tabulated and submitted to the NFF's Honors Courts, which will deliberate and select the class. The FBS Honors Court, chaired by NFF Board Member and College Football Hall of Famer Archie Griffin from Ohio State, and the Divisional Honors Court, chaired by former Marshall head coach, longtime athletics director and NFF Board Member Jack Lengyel, include an elite and geographically diverse pool of athletic administrators, Hall of Famers and members of the media.
The announcement of the 2020 Class will be made in January 2020 in the days leading up to the College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship in New Orleans. The 2020 College Football Hall of Fame Class will officially be inducted during the 63rd NFF Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 8, 2020, at the New York Hilton Midtown. They will also be honored at their respective schools with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute, presented by Fidelity Investments, during the 2020 season.