Sylacauga High School football coach who disappeared during Florida fishing trip located

Sylacauga High School Head Football Coach Chris Smelley was located safe Thursday evening after he was reported missing in Florida the same morning.

The Walton County Sheriff’s Office said Smelley went fishing in his blue and black kayak around 8:30 a.m. in the Gulf of Mexico off Grayton Beach, but had not been seen since.

The sheriff’s office said Smelley was found miles from the shore. He was reportedly in good spirits when he was found.

He was spotted by a coast guard helicopter around 7:12 p.m. still in his kayak about two miles off Grayton Beach. A friend was contacted by radio to pick up Smelley by boat.

The sheriff’s office said it searched the area along with the South Walton Fire District and had jet skis in the water.

In the absence anything and everything else, hope can be the factor that changes an outcome.

The community is rejoicing over Smelley’s safe return. It’s the outcome they prayed for.

“He is just a tremendous man, great leader in the community. He loves our students you can see a passion in what he does,” said Sylacauga Football Chaplin Chris Theilacker.

The U.S. Coast Guard joined the search with a small boat along with an NH60 Jayhawk helicopter out of New Orleans. The Bay County Sheriff’s office also sent a helicopter to help in the search.

A spokesperson for the Walton County Sheriff’s office said crews were prepared to be out overnight if needed. Public Information Officer Corey Dobridnia said the waters appeared calm, but the way the wind was blowing it’s difficult for people to get back to shore.

Smelley was last seen wearing a camo print swimsuit. He did not have a phone or a life jacket with him on the trip.

The sheriff’s office said Smelley’s outing was only supposed to be an hour. He was last seen 9:30 am about 1.5 miles off the beach.

The sheriff’s office said Florida Fish and Wildlife also launched from the Inlet at Destin Pass and is heading east towards Grayton.

Sylacauga City Schools Superintendent Dr. Michele Eller released the following statement before he was located:

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Coach Smelley and his beautiful family along with all search and rescue personnel as they look for him during this time.”

Smelley is a former University of South Carolina quarterback who played under coach Steve Spurrier during the 2006-2008 seasons. He was also on the University of Alabama’s baseball team from 2009-2010. Smelley is a Tuscaloosa native. He and his wife have four children.

Smelley began his coaching career as an assistant at Hillcrest High School. He was head coach at American Christian Academy before taking over at Sylacauga High School as head coach. Smelley also spent time as the quarterbacks coach at Hoover High School.