NC Wesleyan is next stop for Cougars’ Smith

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PINETOPS — Any discussion surrounding the SouthWest Edgecombe High boys cross-country team over the last four seasons had to begin with Jeshon Smith.

As the cornerstone of a small unit of five runners during his senior season, Smith, SouthWest’s unquestioned anchor in distance running, began his high school career posting times of 22 minutes. By his junior year, that mark was under 18 minutes. That steady improvement earned Smith looks from collegiate programs, and Tuesday inside the SouthWest media center, the Cougars standout put his signature to a celebratory letter to attend North Carolina Wesleyan of the NCAA Division III ranks.

“He’s amazing to watch,” SouthWest Edgecombe coach Shelton Langley said. “He would come to practice, and if he forgot his shoes, he’d run the whole course barefoot. I’d come out here when I was coaching baseball, and he’s out here in June and July running the course getting ready for the next season. I think it says a lot about him as a cross-country runner. You’ve got to be self-motivated, because you don’t have fans the whole time cheering you.”

Smith, who finished fifth at the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference championships as a senior, also considered interest from Barton College as well as attending UNC Pembroke and UNC Asheville. 

His fifth-place showing at the EPC helped place him on the Bishops’ recruiting radar.

Smith will join a Wesleyan program seeking to reestablish itself after a dormant period. The Bishops of head coach Marshall Leonard returned to the course in 2017 following a seven-year absence, where they finished seventh out of 10 teams at the USA South Athletic Conference championship meet. 

Division III institutions are not permitted to award athletic scholarships.

“(Leonard) said I could be a good asset to the team,” Smith said. “I’m pretty much the second-fastest person on the (Wesleyan) team, so I think I’m going to fit in pretty well.”

Smith, the son of Maurice and Kendra Smith of Rocky Mount, plans to major in sports management. He ran outdoor track and also played basketball for Langley’s Cougars.

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“It’s a big deal,” Langley said. “I don’t know how many we’ve sent to run college cross-country, but it hasn’t been a lot. So I was excited to see him finally decide to sign. I’m excited to see what he can do when he gets to somebody who knows cross-country and who coaches at the college level. So I think it’s going to be an advantage to him to have a college coach mold somebody who’s rough around the edges.”