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River Rouge — Xavier Smith and David Carter signed their letter of intent to play at Eastern Michigan with River Rouge’s Division 3 state championship trophy just a few feet away.

Smith, a receiver, and Carter, a cornerback, helped River Rouge defeat top-ranked Muskegon, 30-7, at Ford Field for the right to carry that hardware back to school.

Now, Smith and Carter will try to help Eastern Michigan bring back a Mid-American Conference championship trophy back to Ypsilanti.

Eastern Michigan hasn’t won the MAC title since 1987, but the Eagles will be going to their third bowl game in the last four years when they face Pittsburgh in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26 at Ford Field.

Smith — No. 59 on The News' Blue Chip list — is looking forward to playing for EMU coach Chris Creighton, who has turned a program that had 20 straight non-winning seasons prior to the Eagles' current run.

“I feel like it’s a family away from home. They’ve showed me a lot of attention and gave me a lot of love and that’s why I chose Eastern,” said Smith, who had more than 850 receiving yards while returning three punts back for touchdowns and another three kickoffs for TDs.

“Coach Creighton was the one that recruited me and pointed me out at their camp. I went up for a camp, I didn’t know I was going to get recruited or get offered that day. I just did what I had to do, and it paid off.”

River Rouge coach Corey Parker, a former Eastern Michigan player, took Smith to EMU’s camp this past summer and he caught Creighton’s eye, beating out 15 other receivers for the offer.

“He (Creighton) wants me to play special teams and slot receiver,” Smith said. “They have a very versatile offense. They spread the ball. They run it. They throw it, use the wildcat. They said I could play right away, which is exciting.”

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Carter — a three-star cornerback who's No. 51 on The News' Blue Chip list — had offers from Iowa State and several MAC schools.

“They offered me in early May and that’s when I decided to go to Eastern Michigan,” Carter said. “It’s a family atmosphere. They are very welcoming and made me feel right at home. Coach Creighton has changed that program, really turned it around and I knew I had to be a part of that.

"He’s a family man. He’s going to treat all the players the same. He treated me like family and I didn’t even commit yet. If I have a chance to play right away that would be great, but I have no problem working to get an opportunity either.”

So, where has Carter improved from a year ago?

“My patient and my speed,” Carter said. “Last year, my patience was all over the place, but this year the game has slowed down for me.”

Carter has overcome more than his share of adversity.

“David’s dad would come to practice and sit at the top of the press box and he wouldn’t say a word — nice and quiet and unassuming. After the practice he would ask, ‘Coach Parker, does the team need anything?’ And I thought this guy is great, an excellent man to have around the program,” Parker said. “That same father I’m speaking about died, was murdered and so it was a very, very heartbreaking situation for our entire program. And when I say entire program, the week we lost in the state playoffs to Detroit King (7-6 in Division 3 predistrict in 2018), the next day was the funeral and the entire team was there. It was probably the toughest thing I ever experienced as a coach.

“The most intriguing thing about David after that, he did not miss one day of study hall, one day of weight lifting, one day of practice. He did not miss anything. He just continued to stay the course, saying dad would want me here so I’ve got to be here. That’s the type of guy I want to lead my program. Any guy that can deal with all of that and not miss a moment is huge. He didn’t want to let his teammates down. He wanted to make sure we went to the state championship. He wanted to play for his father.”

Carter is thrilled to be headed to Eastern Michigan with Smith by his side.

“It’s very exciting,” Carter said. “I was thrilled when he got the offer. It was a blessing.”

Creighton signed 21 players, several from Michigan, including Milan athlete Tristen Hines (No. 34), Grand Blanc cornerback Myles McNeal (No. 52) and Ogemaw Heights tight end Jere Getzinger, a first-team all-state (Division 5-6) selection by The News.

Other top players signing consists of three-star tackle Jason Eaton from Tennessee, who had offers from LSU, South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana and Kansas; three-star quarterback Baron May from Ohio; and three-star tackle Mickey Rewolinski from Wisconsin, who had an offer from Syracuse.

Eastern Michigan also brought in quarterback Chris Helbig, a grad transfer from Southern Utah.

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

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