Athletics

Preparing the Pros

By Ted Allen, March 25, 2021

Chip Smith (’77) was one of LU’s first student-athletes.

Now he’s a heavyweight in the professional sports training world.

 

Former Liberty University football and baseball standout Carlton “Chip” Smith (’77) didn’t even have a weight room to work out in when he arrived at the college’s football training complex on Treasure Island in the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., in 1973.

Smith, son of a Baptist pastor from Chesapeake, Va., was a pioneer for both programs after Liberty’s founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, personally recruited him away from the University of North Carolina by offering him the school’s first full athletic scholarship.

Smith scored the first touchdown in Liberty history that fall and delivered the first hit for the baseball team when it debuted the following spring.

Chip Smith has built a world-class training center in the Atlanta area, where he has given hundreds of future college and NFL players a jump start to their careers. (Photos by KJ Jugar)

Since graduating from Liberty with a degree in physical education, Smith has revolutionized sports performance training out of his Chip Smith Performance Systems facility near Atlanta. Over the past 32 years, he has helped transform thousands of players from all over the world into world-class athletes.

“I never envisioned doing all that, but I do know that God had a plan, and Dr. Falwell always preached for us to be — and to develop — Champions for Christ,” said Smith, who sees his training center as a ministry. “We serve an awesome God, and I never take credit for any of this.”

Smith’s dream was to play in the NFL, but God’s plan led him to becoming one of the country’s foremost speed, strength, and sports performance experts who has trained more athletes for the NFL than any other trainer.

“God says if you honor Him, ‘He will give you the desires of your heart,’” said Smith, who went through free agent tryouts with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs. “He had a bigger plan for me, and because I’ve honored Him, He has blessed me in my business.”

NFL stars and ballerinas

Chip Smith shares a laugh with  a few of his athletes: (from left) Sean Harper (Houston Texans), Tony Garcia (New England Patriots, behind Harper), and Coby Gossett (Cleveland Browns). Also pictured (from right) is former LU running back DJ Abnar (’16), Ian Berryman (Pittsburgh Steelers), and Jared Southers (Georgia Tech).

In 1987, as part of U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s cultural exchange program, Smith was one of six Americans selected to study abroad at the world-renowned Soviet Sports Institute in Moscow, Russia. Smith learned techniques for speed and strength development that led to his own innovative MORR (Movement, Overspeed, Resistance, and Reaction) training system.

“The training is very sport-specific, position-specific, and movement-specific,” said Smith, who helps create bigger, stronger, faster athletes, equipping them with greater mobility and explosiveness.

Smith’s system is used by more professional, Olympic, and elite-level athletes than any other training system in the world.

He has now helped more than 2,000 football players reach the professional ranks, including Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, who were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Smith has provided NFL Combine preparation for hundreds of players selected in the NFL Draft, training more than 60 Pro Bowlers, 40 first-round draft picks, and four Heisman Trophy winners.

Ali Marpet is one of the diamonds in the rough Smith helped lead to NFL stardom. The NCAA Division III Hobart (N.Y.) College graduate was selected in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft by Tampa Bay. In April, the Buccaneers signed him to a four-year, $55-million contract extension, making him the highest-paid guard in NFL history.

Chip Smith’s Wall of Fame is dedicated to the athletes he has trained, including NFL Hall of Fame inductees Brian Urlacher and Champ Bailey.

“God brought Ali Marpet to me, and he has God-given talent,” Smith said. “It’s not about me at all; it’s about guys who believe in the process. We’ve got a system that works, that can make guys jump high and run fast. When I polish that diamond and tilt it toward the Son to make it sparkle, it can be priceless.”

While football may be his forté, Smith has also worked with hundreds of players in Major League Baseball, the NBA, Major League Soccer, National Hockey League, ATP tennis, and PGA golf. He spent four years as the strength and conditioning coach for the Colorado Silver Bullets, a barnstorming women’s professional baseball team coached by MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro.

Smith also trained 32 Olympic champions from all over the world in all different sports at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Previously, he worked with 14 Chinese Olympic Teams in Beijing, where he molded 41 Olympic medalists, including 21 who struck gold, at the 2008 Summer Games.

“It is humbling for me to be able to mentor and share my faith with people in the international community,” Smith said.

He has even worked with Joy Womack, a prima ballerina from Santa Monica, Calif., who has performed with the Bolshevik Ballet in Russia.

Smith times former South Alabama running back Tra Minter using his patented Movement, Overspeed, Resistance, and Reaction (MORR) training system.

“Because of her, we had three more of the top ballerinas in the world come train with us — from South Korea, Atlanta, and Tulsa, Okla.,” Smith said. “God has been faithful to bring athletes across our path.”

As an author, Smith has written articles for several trade magazines and a book, “Football Training Like the Pros,” published in 2007. He is a frequent guest on syndicated and local radio and television sports programs, including ESPN, CNN, NFL, Sirius Radio, and CSS, and a sought-after speaker as well as a consultant to numerous sports teams. Smith has lectured in Russia, Germany, China, Liberia, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas, and at various other locations in the United States and around the world.

In the latest chapter of his illustrious career, Smith signed a five-year deal with the NFL to work as director of sports performance at the new NFL Alumni Academy, based at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Village in Canton, Ohio. Last fall, he prepared free agents and prospects who were released in training camps or have rehabilitated from injuries to be activated by any of the NFL’s 32 teams.

These walls in Smith’s Atlanta training facility bear the names of the hundreds of football players he has trained for NFL rosters over the past 30 years.

“If they brought me here, it’s because they wanted someone with proven experience,” Smith said. “I’ve trained more NFL players than anybody in the world. If I can help one more player get there, I want to do that.”
He also is working with the academy’s diversity program to develop mostly African-American NFL veterans into coaches or administrators.

“For those young men, having a small part in maybe helping them achieve their dreams and aspirations is really why I’m passionate about doing what I’m doing,” Smith said.

Making history at LU

At Liberty, Smith was a phenomenal athlete in his own right. He was a fast and furious player on the football field, often sprinting past linebackers into the secondary before trampling over defensive backs in his path. He rushed for 3,342 yards and 33 touchdowns over his four-year career.

“He had an extra gear that others didn’t have,” said Dean Phillips (’77), Smith’s quarterback for all four years. “Usually, there was no need for a stiff-arm. He would juke left, juke right, head butt, and then run over them. He was strong, but he was also fast, and he had good moves and great hands too.”

As a four-year starter and team captain in both football and baseball, Smith served as a catalyst for the teams’ success from the start.

“Chip was just a natural-born leader,” Phillips said. “You see great athletes sometimes who don’t have any leadership ability. He was definitely the leader of our team, and that leadership ability translated naturally to his training business. It is no surprise to me that he’s had the success that he’s had.”

Chip Smith (’77), shown on Liberty’s practice field on Treasure Island in 1975, was a powerful fullback who scored the program’s first touchdown in 1973.

Smith and Phillips were two out of about a dozen players who stayed with Liberty’s football program after its founding head coach, Rock Royer, was killed in a plane crash right before Thanksgiving in 1973.

John Cartwright, who succeeded Royer in the program’s second year and guided the Flames for the next three seasons, is thankful for the faithfulness demonstrated by Smith and his teammates.

“They showed a lot of character and loyalty because we didn’t have anything,” Cartwright said. “These kids came to play football, but there weren’t a lot of extras. It was all a very pioneering program. Those kids stuck with it. They wanted to honor the Lord and do their best.”

Smith has never forgotten his fellow players who remained true to Dr. Falwell’s vision for Flames Football, which has been fulfilled with its rise to the FBS ranks in 2018, first bowl game and Cure Bowl win in 2019, and its second Cure Bowl trophy in December.

“Teammates I played with at Liberty to this day are my closest friends,” he said. “We’ve stayed in touch for 40 years, and I love those guys like brothers. We all feel like God brought us together.”

Smith also met his wife, Joy, a fellow 1977 grad, at Liberty. They married in 1978. He was inducted into the 2010 Liberty Athletics Hall of Fame, and, like all of the founding members of Liberty’s Athletics programs, he is a product of humble beginnings.

“I graduated from Liberty, but I never stepped foot on Liberty Mountain,” Smith said, other than for a prayer service near the site where Williams Stadium now sits on the day Dr. Falwell cast a vision for a campus on its foothills.

Ed Gomes (’76), a standout basketball player for Liberty who has served as director of spiritual development for Flames Football since 2001, shared a similar experience.

“I went to school with Chip and he was a great football player and baseball player, but when we showed up, there was no football stadium, there was no baseball diamond, there was no basketball court,” Gomes said. “Chip Smith and I heard Dr. Falwell talk about the future. Now, we have not only heard it, but we have seen it.”

“We were pioneers,” Smith said. “God brought some unbelievable athletes together in those early years who could have gone anywhere. We made sacrifices to help Liberty get where it is today. There was no school; we basically lived on an island and went to classes in a church. God just used us to build that foundation. I’m humbled to have been a part of that.”

Keeping it personal

Former Flames linebacker Ian Childress (’09), Smith’s son-in-law, who has worked out of Smith’s Atlanta facility for the past 10 years, said Smith’s business success comes from “treating everybody like family.”

“When athletes walk into the facility, he welcomes them in with a hug, and when they leave, he prays over them,” Childress said.

Chip Smith has trained several Liberty alumni, including (from left) quarterback/wide receiver Mike Brown (’12, Jacksonville Jaguars), wide receiver Chris Summers (’12, Minnesota Vikings), running back Rashad Jennings (’09, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants), and linebacker Ian Childress (’09), Smith’s son-in-law and one of his sports performance coaches.

“It’s all about personal relationships,” Smith added. “We have been extremely blessed and fortunate to get that opportunity to invest in their lives. When you really get to know people and what motivates them and what their needs are, you develop those relationships and they’re not contingent on being a first-round draft pick.”

He takes a holistic approach to developing athletes who will excel both on and off the field.

“When you leave me after training with me, you’re going to be in the best shape of your life,” he said. “We tell every athlete, ‘You’ve got to be physically, mentally, and spiritually fit. And if you’re lacking in any area, you’re not a total person.’ With that, we hold ourselves to a higher standard with the way that we coach.”

Smith has trained fellow Liberty alumni Mike Brown, Kevin Fogg, and Rashad Jennings, among close to 20 others, and he expects to see more Liberty alumni reach the professional ranks — as players, coaches, athletic trainers, or even in the front office running NFL teams. Smith’s MORR system has been integrated into three classes in the Strength and Conditioning specialization under Liberty’s M.S. in Human Performance as well as the Fitness and Performance concentration within the M.S. in Exercise Science and Wellness.

“Liberty has a great sport management program, and the exercise science department is top-notch in the world,” he said.

Last summer, Dr. Jim Schoffstall, chair of Liberty’s Allied Health Professions Department and director of its Human Performance Lab, took his family to Smith’s training base, where they received a personalized tour of the facility decked out with hundreds of framed, autographed NFL jerseys from players who trained there.

“What Chip brings to his athletes is very unique,” Schoffstall said. “You see the physical attributes growing, but to also see these strong, powerful men taking a knee before Christ, that’s awe-inspiring.”

>> Watch a Flames Central video on Chip Smith produced by the Liberty Flames Sports Network in 2015.

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