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Smith was born in Pensacola, Florida, the son of Mary Smith and Emmitt James Smith, Jr.He attended Escambia High School in Pensacola, where he played high school football and ran track for the Escambia Gators.Smith is the only player to post three seasons with nineteen or more touchdowns.

Smith rushed for 988 yards on the year (not including the bowl game) at 110 yards per game, the lowest totals of his college career.

That performance earned him a spot in the starting lineup the following week in the Gators' SEC opener against Alabama at Legion Field.

In his first collegiate start, Smith promptly broke Florida's 57-year old all-time single game rushing record, carrying 39 times for 224 yards and two touchdowns as the Gators upset the Crimson Tide.

Smith currently holds the NFL record in career rushing yards with 18,355, breaking the previous record held by Walter Payton, on October 27, 2002.

He leads all running backs with 164 career rushing touchdowns, and his 175 total touchdowns ranks him second only to Jerry Rice's 208.

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