LEHIGH VALLEY, Pennsylvania — DeVonta Smith would rather let his talking come on the football field, yet even a man of a few words can open up when becoming comfortable in his surroundings. Smith is experiencing that in Philadelphia, a city where the talented young wideout is growing up before the Eagles‘ very eyes.
Smith has only been in the NFL for a year, yet his impact around the league was felt with the celebrity NFL players who chose to participate in his first charity softball game at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday. In addition to Smith’s presence, Eagles teammates Jalen Hurts, Darius Slay, Brandon Graham, Dallas Goedert, Avonte Maddox, Boston Scott and Nakobe Dean joined him on the hour-plus trek to Allentown. Of the non-Eagles, Micah Parsons (Dallas Cowboys), Najee Harris (Pittsburgh Steelers), Patrick Surtain II (Denver Broncos), Mack Wilson (New England Patriots), Jaylen Waddle (Miami Dolphins). Elijah Moore (New York Jets), Terrell Edmunds (Steelers), and La’Mical Perine (Jets) participated in the event.
Quite the impressive guest list for a player as soft spoken as Smith, who has admitted he’s starting to come out of his shell as a player and person. His charity softball game with all these NFL stars supporting him is a big step.
“I’ve gotten better with it. It doesn’t bother me and I feel a lot more comfortable,” Smith said. “It’s fun, I’m getting a lot more comfortable with it and finding new things about myself. (I’m finding out) I can talk a lot more than I want to.”
How was Smith able to land these impressive party invitations after only one year in the league? Being a Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama helps, but only the soft-spoken Smith could describe it best — “Know people that know people.”
“Just seeing how he plays on the field, everything about him,” Edmunds said. “Talking to him, playing against each other — and now this year we get to play him for real, not just a preseason game. We started knowing each other from talking and now mutual friends (around the league). I just wanted to come out here and help him support a great cause.”
What Smith has already accomplished in just one NFL season has Eagles fans excited for his future. Smith had 64 catches for 916 yards and five touchdowns last year for the Eagles, setting a franchise record for receiving yards in his rookie season. His 14.3 yards per catch was seventh in the NFL (minimum 60 receptions) and was one of only nine players with 60 catches, 900 yards, and 14 yards per catch last season.
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And if you ask Maddox, it wouldn’t surprise if Smith does take the next step in his game, judging by what he sees going against Smith in practice every day.
“He’s a hard worker,” Maddox said. “He works hard to perfect his craft each and every day. He’s the first one in and the last one to leave. He definitely has a great character on and off the field and is a great leader in our building. I’m excited to be here for him and support him.”
Goedert watched Smith grow in his rookie year to the player he is now. The Eagles tight end won’t be surprised if Smith evolves into one of the NFL’s best wide receivers in Year 2.
“His route-running, fine-tuning things. He’s just being more detailed,” Goedert said. “It’s just like any year, you grow and develop. He’s come a long way from being great already. I’m excited to watch him when the time comes. He’s going to do a lot of special things.”
The maturation on the field is coinciding with Smith’s growth off the field. Smith isn’t becoming a outspoken player by any stretch, but becoming familiar with his surroundings in Philadelphia has allowed him to evolve into a better version of himself.
Smith is the type of character who represents the Eagles’ franchise well, showcasing he wants to be in Philadelphia for a long time.
“I just want to keep progressing. Just build off what I did last year,” Smith said. “Know the things I did wrong and not make those same mistakes. One thing I can say about Philly — they’re all in. If you’re doing the things you’re supposed to do, they’ll love you. If you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do, they’ll be on you.
“It’s a great place. That’s the type of place you want to be. Fans that are passionate on everything. Being here. I love it.”