Missing ex-SEC quarterback found safe on kayak in Florida Gulf after fishing trip goes awry

Photo: Walton County Sheriff's Office

Former University of South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley, who was reported missing on Thursday, has been located by the U.S. Coast Guard nearly 12 hours after he was seen leaving to go fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, law enforcement in Florida confirmed.

The Walton County Sheriff’s Office put out a press release asking for help in locating the 37-year-old former SEC player, who was last seen at around 8:30 a.m. when he went fishing in a kayak in the Gulf of Mexico off Grayton Beach. 

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 4: Chris Smelley #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks throws a pass against the Kentucky Wildcats during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium October 4, 2007 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Several local agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife agency were called in to join the search.

Nearly 12 hours after he was last seen, authorities confirmed that Smelley had been located safely.

Walton County Sheriff's Office: Multiple agencies have assets on Grayton Beach helping aid in the search for missing kayaker Chris Smelley, 37, of Sylacauga, Alabama. The U.S. Coast Guard has a helicopter off-shore doing a grid search.

The U.S. Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans dispatched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, which found Smelley roughly two miles off the coast of Grayton Beach. 

Footage shared by the Coast Guard on X showed the moment rescuers located his lone kayak. He was transferred to a friend’s vessel that had been searching for him in the area, officials said.

Smelley played three seasons with the South Carolina Gamecocks from 2006-2008. He was 9-6 as the team’s starting quarterback. In his final season, he completed 169 passes for 1,922 yards and 14 touchdowns across 12 games.

He later transferred to Alabama in 2009 to play for the Crimson Tide baseball team.

Smelley now serves as the head football coach at Sylacauga High School.