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The first thing Carterion Boone noticed about D’ionte “Boo” Smith was his size. It was five or six years ago, shortly after Boone had taken an interest in boxing, when his coach told him to get in the ring with Smith to spar. Smith had been at the sport a bit longer than Boone, and their coach wanted to test Boone against Smith’s experience.

Some of the details are fuzzy — Boone can’t remember the name of the gym they were at or the first name of his coach — but it’s impossible for Boone to forget the size difference between the two.

“Coach, him?” he asked. “You want me to get in there with him? He’s like 67 pounds soaking wet.”

Smith was probably closer to 120 pounds at the time, Boone said, but the difference between the two was striking. Boone was around 160, and boxers usually compete against opponents within 1 to 5 pounds of themselves in weight.

Boone swung first, but Smith dodged it.

“I was quicker than him,” Smith said. “A lot quicker than him. He was getting upset about it.”

Then Smith landed an uppercut on his bigger opponent. The hit felt like it came from someone Boone’s own size.

“He kind of buzzed me up,” Boone said. “I’m like, ‘OK, I gotta take him a little more serious.’”

The two went for three rounds at three minutes a round, but neither went too hard — Smith because he was more experienced, and Boone because he was bigger.

The matchup, though, taught Boone an important — if cliché — lesson for life and boxing: Never judge a book by its cover.

“D’ionte doesn’t look — not that you have to look intimidating in boxing — but he just doesn’t give off that vibe,” Boone said. “He’s just like a cool, funny guy, so you just wouldn’t expect him to have that switch where he can just turn it on and become a different person.”

Smith and Boone went on to play junior college football together at Coffeyville Community College. Since then, though, their athletic careers have taken them in different directions. Now 6-foot and 150 pounds, Smith plays wide receiver for Missouri. Boone is continuing to pursue his boxing career, having taken the sport more seriously in the past two years.

The two remain friends, but at this point in their careers, they won’t get into gloves or step in the ring against each other.

“We wouldn’t want an accident happening or anything,” Boone said.

Smith’s size always has stood out, but he’s never let it become someone else’s advantage. Idella Taylor remembers her son, the youngest of four boys on her side, training against his older brothers from a young age.

“They would box him and make him box them back so he could stay tough and not have to worry about that,” Taylor said. “They’d take him out and also run him over with their bodies so he could be prepared for when he gets hit.”

Knowing that he could take his brother’s punishment made Smith seek physicality. Taylor said he showed interest in football as early 3 years old when he started asking to wear a helmet and jersey to go trick-or-treating on Halloween. He suited up to play for the first time when he was 4.

“It kind of just naturally grew into me,” Smith said. “I was more ready for tackle football than flag when I was younger.”

Taylor didn’t go to many of Smith’s boxing matches — it was an activity meant for him and his brothers — but she recalls many a time her son sized up against someone bigger than him on the football field. He’d get hit then jump back up — “like a G,” his mother said — and make it seem like the tackle should’ve hurt the other guy more.

Smith participated in a number of sports growing up, but football was always the end goal. Taylor said Smith learned a lot from those other sports but credits those days training with his brothers and time spent at home for his success.

“Those sports, they really prepared him, but home prepared him first,” she said. “He’s been around older people. His dad and myself were older parents, so we’re not like the younger parents for somebody his age because we have older kids. So he had to have that old soul because that’s what he listens to all day, is old soul things, old soul talking.”

Amber Bloecher, Smith’s Raytown track and field coach, didn’t even know her former star high jumper boxed , but she still remembers her first impression of Smith when he showed up for her team freshman year: skinny, tall and silly.

She and her fellow coaches had Smith run the 400 meters and 4x400 relay sometimes, but it was clear he excelled more at jumping, specifically in the high jump. His build and “ups” made him a natural fit for the sport. By the time he graduated from Raytown in 2016, Smith held the school record for high jump at 6 feet, 7 inches.

But reaching that height — pun intended — took time. Bloecher wishes Smith would’ve been a year-round track athlete.

“You know how you don’t really know your talent until you see some success out of it,” Bloecher said, “you don’t know how good you are until you’re like, ‘Oh, I just won. Oh, I just won again’?

“If he would’ve peaked a little bit earlier, there might have been even some more accolades to go with him as far as high school.”

Smith still features three times on the all-time records list at Raytown, topping the board in high jump. He’s also listed as part of the No. 5 4x400 relay for a race in 2016, the second-fastest in the past 20 years, and No. 19 in long jump.

It was clear to Bloecher and Smith’s jump coach, Tammie Williams, that Smith would be able to run track in college. But he was adamant about playing football.

“When he was trying to be recruited and trying to go to school, he wanted it so bad, but he wasn’t getting the football looks,” Bloecher said. “He was getting some, but not the ones that maybe he wanted or other peers at the time were getting or whatever.”

So Smith ended up at MidAmerica Nazarene first, playing football and running track, and then at Coffeyville. He redshirted his first season to run track and was primarily used as a kick returner the following season. He wanted more.

Looking to go to a bigger school, he briefly committed to Oklahoma State for track and a chance to walk on the Cowboys’ football team. But a combination of factors drew him back to Missouri, and reaching out to newly hired coach Eliah Drinkwitz resulted in an invite to walk-on tryouts.

Bloecher felt badly that she didn’t know her former protégé had made the Division I program. She said it’s clearly a mark of the maturity he’s gained since leaving her program, when he was still very much just a high school kid.

“If I saw him today, I would probably give him a hug and just tell him how proud of him I am and that his determination and willingness to just complete his degree,” she said.

Smith appeared in eight games for Missouri in 2020, logging eight receptions for 65 yards. He set a new career-long reception on the first snap of MU’s 2021 season opener, catching a 63-yard bomb from QB Connor Bazelak, and by the end of the game, he’d surpassed his 2020 season yardage total.

Watch Smith play football, and the impact of the other sports he’s participated in are evident. He’s one of the fastest players on the field, thanks to track, and his time in the ring has made him unafraid to face off against players bigger than him.

Smith doesn’t need to be reminded of how his previous athletic pursuits have led him to where he is now. He knows what he brings to the field or the ring or the track.

“God didn’t bless me with having the biggest size, but he blessed me with having enough talent and a work ethic that can’t be stopped,” Smith said.

The average NCAA Division I wide receiver is 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, according to Next College Student Athlete. Smith doesn’t even fall into the recommended average weight class for Division III and NAIA athletes.

Taylor compared her son to Devonta Smith, the former Alabama wide receiver who now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. The two have almost the exact same build, with the NFL player listed at 6-foot, 170 pounds.

“D’ionte’s never been a big guy,” Boone said. “He’s still the small guy. He’s in a Division I program where they put weight on, yet he’s still small. It’s just his mindset, man. He’s never let anyone tell him, ‘Oh, your size is gonna be a problem.’”

The sentiment is similar to one Smith’s dad drilled into him long ago, a mantra of sorts that he still carries with him. He’s not one to get nervous often but said everyone has that nagging question in the back of their head sometimes.

But when that question enters his mind, he goes back to what his dad always used to tell him: “Dante Hall was little. Priest Holmes was little. And they bad just like me.”

Boone knows boxing helped Smith with football because he’s landed a hit on him before.

Smith and Boone have matched up many times since they first stepped in the ring to face off against each other, including on the football field.

Back at Coffeyville, the pair were in a 7-on-7 game together at practice when Smith ran a crossing route in front of Boone, who was playing outside linebacker. It was supposed to only be two-hand touch, but when Smith jumped to catch the ball, Boone came in so fast that his shoulder caught Smith in the stomach.

Boone thought he’d knocked the wind out of his friend, but Smith popped right back up, ball still in hand.

He’s sure many of the collegiate defenders who line up across from Smith underestimate him, just like Boone did that first time they were in the ring. Smith hopes that’s the case.

“I want them to think, ‘Don’t get blurred,’” Smith said. “Blurred is a term where you’d get beat deep over top. When you line up against me, don’t get blurred.”

Smith knows he’s an underdog. He wants people to underestimate him and be surprised when he beats them to the ball. It’s his “motivation to be a savage.”

But those close to him? They know better than to judge Smith by his measurements.

“They see his size as a weakness, but Boo Boo is a strong kid,” Taylor said. “Even the biggest kid on another rival team, if Boo got hit by him, he’d jump right back up. ’Cause he’s done it so many times.”

This article originally ran on columbiamissourian.com.

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