Originally created 07/25/97

Smith's death puzzling to Clemson faithful



CLEMSON, S.C. - It was always tough to read Terry Smith.

Friends and coaches of the former Clemson football standout say Smith never showed much emotion on or off the field. As an athlete, he wasn't a chest-thumper. And he wasn't the type of guy whose soul was legible through his eyes.

All you got from Smith, say those closest to him, was a ready smile indicative of his country upbringing and a reserved, easy stoicism that never hinted at distress.

That's what makes the violent circumstances of Smith's death so puzzling to those who watched him grow up as an all-state athlete at Daniel High School in Clemson and mature as an all-ACC wide receiver with the Tigers.

Smith, 26, was shot to death by police officers Friday night in suburban Atlanta. Police say they fired at him after he apparently forced his way into his estranged wife's home, then stabbed her while defying orders to drop the kitchen knife he wielded.

Smith was eulogized and interred Wednesday in Easley.

His estranged wife, Angela, 24, and their 2-year-old daughter were also injured by police gunfire.

Friends and family pray that Smith's life won't be defined by his violent, untimely death. That, they say, would be unfortunate, because Smith had never been a violent man.

Those close to him say Smith should not be labeled as another high-profile athlete with the ugliest of character flaws. They also want to dispel the notion that Smith was bitter because he fell short of professional sports glory when injuries ended his brief NFL career.

But Smith's behavior in the months leading to his death suggests that something was wrong.

According to police records, Angela Smith went to the DeKalb County Police Department three times since June 20 to complain about her husband's harassing phone calls. She also told police that he had gone to her apartment unannounced and had followed her several times.

He told relatives that his wife was using the children, a boy and a girl, as leverage in their marital dispute. Larry Greenlee, Smith's first cousin and closest friend, said Smith denied harassing his wife and accused her of deliberately trying to hurt him by limiting his access to their children.

But most recently, Greenlee said, Smith had seemed to reconcile himself with the demise of his marriage. When they last saw each other, during the July 4 holiday weekend, Greenlee said Smith was philosophical about a possible divorce.

"Although things weren't working out, he put their relationship in God's hands," said Greenlee.

At the time of Terry's death, the Smiths had been living in suburban Atlanta for nearly two years. They moved there from Indianapolis, where Terry was a member of the Indianapolis Colts practice squad.

A series of knee injuries ended his career with the Colts.

More bad news came when, four months ago, the marriage began to sour.

Greenlee said Smith had just taken a new job and was looking forward to climbing the corporate ladder.

Before that, Greenlee said, Smith explored the possibility of getting his master's degree in business at Clemson and joining the Tigers' football staff as a graduate assistant.

"When that fell through, that's when he decided to take this job working in finance for one of the big auto manufacturers," Greenlee said. "From what he told me, it was a pretty good job."

But while Smith seemed upbeat and planned a future for himself and the children, his most serious marital problems had begun.

On June 20, Mrs. Smith filed a complaint with the DeKalb County Police Department, charging her estranged husband with making harassing phone calls.

The next day, Smith was arrested and charged with misdemeanor simple battery. He paid a $1,250 bond, and a DeKalb County judge told him not to visit his wife's home, except for court-ordered visitations with his children. Even then, Smith could only visit with another adult present.

DeKalb County Police Sgt. Dan Jugo said Mrs. Smith requested that the magistrate revoke Smith's bond, alleging that he continued to call her repeatedly and to follow her. Her request was denied July 7.

Smith finished his career at Clemson as the all-time leader in catches, with 162, and in reception yardage, with 2,681. He was first team all-ACC in 1991 and he was named the Tigers' MVP for the 1993 season.

He is probably best remembered for catching the game-winning touchdown in the waning seconds of the 1993 Peach Bowl against Kentucky.

Smith spurned scholarship offers from Florida State, Miami and Notre Dame to stay home and attend Clemson so his family could see him play.

Danny Ford recruited Smith at Clemson, but Smith played all of his snaps under Ken Hatfield.

Greenlee says he will see to it that Smith's children know what kind of man their father was.

"Terry left enough good memories," Greenlee said. "I will instill in them how good a person he was. They have nothing to be ashamed of."