Former South Carolina Football Player Rescued After 11 Hours Stranded at Sea on Kayak

Former quarterback Chris Smelley went out for a fishing trip off the coast of Florida on Thursday morning and quickly hit strong winds

<p>Walton County Sheriff

Walton County Sheriff's Office

Chris Smelley and his kayak

An Alabama man and former college football player is recounting the harrowing kayaking trip that left him stranded at sea for 11 hours.

On Friday, former University of South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley spoke to local Alabama Fox station WBRC about his fishing trip on Thursday that turned into a missing person case.

According to the affiliate station, Smelley, 37, took his kayak out off the coast of Grayton Beach, Fla., at about 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning to so some fishing. However, he hit some strong winds after a few minutes and quickly found himself seven to eight miles off the coast with seemingly no way to get back, he said.

"I was in a big, heavy kayak. And I got out there and right off the shore, the wind was just whipping and a lot stronger than it was at shore," Smelley, who played for the Gamecocks from 2006 to 2008, recalled to WBRC. "I wish there was a story that a giant shark dragged me out or I was battling a sea monster — but it was really just nature — it was just the wind."

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"My body was sitting up tall, and I was basically just a big sail," he added. "I was giving it everything I could and there was a long period of time where I was at the mercy of the wind."

Smelley's wife began to worry after he didn't return for several hours, and according to WCNC Charlotte, the Walton County Sheriff's Office called in the Coast Guard to help search for the former quarterback.

Related: 11 Stories of Incredible Survival at Sea

"We’re at the beach a lot and I’ve done a lot of fishing and I’m real comfortable in the ocean," Smelley told WBRC. "I wouldn’t say I was necessarily scared, but there was some times where, especially as the sun started going down, and I had seen the rescue helicopters fly over me pretty close by a few times but they didn’t see me, that I thought I was going to spend the night in the ocean."

"I had just caught a fish and was preparing to clean it to give me some energy to try to keep paddling back in when the rescue helicopter pulled in," he added.

After 11 hours, Coast Guard helicopters located Smelley, brought him back to shore and gave him a quick medical evaluation, the station reported. He wasn't dehydrated or injured — only sunburned, Smelley said.

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Smelley, who is head coach at Sylacauga High School in Alabama, said his wife won't let him forget the incident anytime soon — especially because he tried to go out fishing again the very next morning.

"Yeah, right at first she was a little upset — in a loving way," he joked. "But yeah, I went out with no phone and no life jacket, so I think lesson learned in just understanding that when you’re going out in a situation like that, safety is at the top of your mind."

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