After he drifted out to sea in a kayak, ex-South Carolina QB Eric Smelley details his harrowing experience

Former South Carolina quarterback Eric Smelley said that he was starting to give up hope that he would be found after his kayak had drifted miles off shore while fishing.

Smelley, now a high school football coach in Alabama, was rescued after a U.S. Coast Guard search effort to find him in the Gulf of Mexico on March 28. Smelley and his family were vacationing in Panama City Beach and he had rented a kayak to go fishing that day.

However, Smelley was stranded for more than 12 hours after he had drifted out to sea thanks to strong winds that day. He told the Tuscaloosa News that he lost some optimism when a Coast Guard helicopter flew over him and kept going. Thankfully, he was located a short time later.

"I turned to start paddling in a little bit," he said. "As soon as I started my first attempt in, I knew I was in trouble."

Smelley found himself in water that the Coast Guard says had 2- to 3-foot waves with winds approaching 10 mph, pushing him farther out into the gulf.

"It seemed real calm, but right as I got off, the wind was real strong the further I got out," Smelley said.

Smelley made three attempts to get back to shore but was still moving backward.

"I just knew I had to wait until eventually there was a lull in the wind or a change in the wind direction to give me a chance to at least paddle back in," he said.

Smelley’s wife contacted the Walton County Sheriff’s Office after he hadn’t returned that afternoon. A search effort soon followed.

Smelley wasn’t found until just after 7 p.m. A Coast Guard plane spotted him approximately 8 miles from where he was supposed to be and he had floated over two miles offshore. A family friend with a boat who had joined in the search effort was the closest to Smelley and picked him up as the sun was setting.

"It was getting very close to becoming very dark," [Coast Guard Petty Officer Third Class Garrett] Hedspeth said. "..ex. It was great timing for him to be spotted, because once the sun sets we are still going to be out there searching but that definitely adds a whole different ballgame."

In an interview with ABC News earlier in the week, Smelley said that he was simply in "survival mode" while he was stranded in the gulf.

"I feel very blessed. I felt covered in prayer and love and just thankful to God that it turned out a good outcome," Smelley said.

An Alabama native, Smelley signed with South Carolina in 2006 as a four-star recruit. He played three seasons for the Gamecocks and was the team’s starter in 2008 as South Carolina went 7-6 and appeared in the Outback Bowl. He transferred to Alabama after that season and finished his college career playing baseball.

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