TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was cold and drizzly Tuesday afternoon on the University of Alabama campus. Some would call it good football weather.
Chris Smelley gave up that sport — for now — when he left South Carolina last month. So on this day he was inside, wearing a crimson Alabama baseball hat, a strange sight for anybody who saw him wear South Carolina football gear the past two years.
“It felt weird going out to practice in something other than shoulder pads and football pants,” Smelley said. “But I’m getting more comfortable every day.”
He apparently will have more time to get ready. Barring a successful appeal of an NCAA ruling, Smelley, a catcher, will sit out this season and play baseball for Alabama in 2010.
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But the former Gamecock quarterback remains a source of interest in Tuscaloosa, his hometown. For the first time since transferring from USC to Alabama and switching sports, he talked to the media Tuesday.
The subject of what happened at South Carolina came up often, but Smelley handled it the same way he did while in Columbia: He repeated several times that he had a great time in Columbia and had no regrets.
Smelley started 15 games in two seasons, winning nine, and made relief appearances in six others, including the Outback Bowl in January. It proved to be his final game as a Gamecock.
“It was up and down. But I had a great time. I wouldn’t change anything,” Smelley said. “I loved playing for coach (Steve) Spurrier and the Gamecocks, but I’m here now and ready to move on.”
Smelley will have two years of baseball eligibility remaining at Alabama.
Because he redshirted his first season at South Carolina, he would have one season to play football at Alabama, which seems a possibility. He has met with Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban, who told him to take some time and see how he felt.
‘“It’s something I’m going to put some serious consideration into,” Smelley said. “Because I always grew up a big Alabama fan and went to all the football games growing up. That would be great to be able to play for Alabama for a year.”
It would also mean a return to USC in 2010, when Alabama visits Williams-Brice Stadium. For now, baseball is the priority.
When he decided to transfer, Smelley figured he would not be eligible to play baseball in the spring. But when he arrived at Alabama, the compliance offices at USC and Alabama told him he could play.
Only recently was he informed that a NCAA transfer rule for baseball implemented during this school year prevented him from being eligible because Smelley’s transfer occurred at mid-year.
Smelley said he was not upset, noting the year off will give him time to get his swing back.
“He will add something,” Alabama baseball coach Jim Wells said. “We look forward to him getting a year of practice under his belt, playing summer ball. He’ll be a good player for us next year.”
Smelley was a standout baseball player at American Christian High in Tuscaloosa, earning all-state honors and leading his team to state titles in 2004 and ’05.
Second baseman Ross Wilson, the brother of former Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson, said he and his teammates were excited when they heard Smelley would be coming aboard.
“Everybody on the baseball team keeps up with football, especially with him being from Tuscaloosa,” Wilson said. “We all knew who he was.”
The transition to baseball has not been that hard for Smelley, who didn’t decide football would be in his future at college until his junior year of high school. During his three years at USC, Smelley maintained a relationship with baseball coach Ray Tanner.
Smelley went to games at Sarge Frye Field and found himself missing baseball.
“Throughout the football season, I thought I might try to start doing both this year at South Carolina,” he said. “But I just decided this (transferring) was the right thing to do.”
He speaks regularly with the quarterbacks he competed — and bonded — with at USC.
Tommy Beecher will play at Liberty next season as a graduate student. Stephen Garcia is the starter at USC.
Smelley plans to be in the stands next fall when Garcia and USC play in Tuscaloosa.
“It’s gonna be weird watching from the stands,” he said. “But that should be a great football game.”