The story Edrick Smith’s former teammates love to tell about him occurred on a brutally hot day at practice in the fall of 2000.
Smith, who played linebacker for N.C. State, had a slight equipment malfunction at practice. His helmet needed adjusting, and while N.C. State’s training staff worked to fix it, Smith got comfortable in the shade and smiled at his sweating teammates.
They teased him about it later, but he had a snappy comeback.
"I was just trying to save my legs for 11 on 11,” Smith said, according to teammate Dantonio Burnette.
Smith was the guy who was always laughing, and telling jokes about beloved assistant coach Joe Pate and others, whenever N.C. State’s players got together for a reunion. Now his former teammates are trying to come to grips with the idea that he’s gone.
The Wolfpack defense from the late 1990s and 2000 has lost two players in six months. Former defensive end Corey Smith died in March when he was in a boat that capsized in rough seas off the coast of Florida near Tampa.
On Sunday, Edrick Smith died in Charlotte when he was in the back seat of a Honda Accord that was split in two in a collision with a Chevy Camaro on North Tryon Street, according to police.
The driver of the Camaro, Hugo Fernando Rosillo, 30, was tracked down by police after fleeing the scene and charged with second-degree murder, felony hit and run, and drunk driving, police said.
Smith was 29 and is survived by wife Karisa and three children.
Burnette was one of his best friends. They roomed together on the road and played the same position, middle linebacker.
Smith was a year older than Burnette and took him under his wing after making 94 tackles in 1998 in an impressive freshman season. But Smith tore two knee ligaments in the 1999 season opener.
The injury created an opening for Burnette, who took the opportunity and ran with it. He became a first-team All-ACC selection in 2002 and ranks second in school history in career tackles with 476.
When Smith returned from the injury, the two players figured it would be an opportunity for N.C. State to have two great middle linebackers, but Smith was never the same after the injury. Despite that, Smith worked out with Burnette and didn’t hold a grudge.
"We still were great friends,” Burnette said.
Burnette now is an assistant strength and conditioning coach for N.C. State and was at work Sunday when word about Smith began spreading. Burnette began searching the Internet for information and found nothing at first.
"It’s got to be somebody else,” Burnette kept telling himself.
But it wasn’t. And now the phrase “11 on 11” may always have a melancholy tone for a certain group of former N.C. State players.
"He was always the life of the group,” Burnette said, “and he will be missed by a lot of people.”