Veteran offensive lineman D’Ante Smith has likely played his last game in purple and gold. ECU head football coach Mike Houston confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that both Smith and Noah Henderson will miss the remainder of the season with injuries.

“I do not see either one of them returning this year,” Houston said. “I’d hoped, but it’s just not going to work out medically. It’s something that both of them — they’ve been through what they need to do to take care of the issues they have going on and they’re both in the rehab process right now.”

Henderson, a sophomore, was expected to play significant reps at right tackle before getting hurt during the preseason. In his stead, Bailey Malovic has filled that position through the season’s first six games.

Smith started the season-opener at left tackle, running his consecutive start streak to 26, the longest such streak on the Pirates’ roster at the time. Since then, Smith has been sidelined with an injury, and with the season a little more than two weeks from its scheduled conclusion, did not have enough time to work back.

After 30 career starts for the Pirates, Smith built a healthy draft stock and plans to test the waters of professional football despite having another year of eligibility granted to him through the NCAA’s blanket waiver for fall student-athletes.

“His plans right now are he’s going to declare for the draft,” Houston said. “We support him fully in that. He and I have had a lot of very long talks about getting himself healthy. Then what he’s got to do from a training perspective once he is healthy in order to give himself an opportunity to play in some postseason games and hopefully give himself a great shot when the draft rolls around.”

Mel Kiper’s current Big Board has Smith listed as the ninth-best draft eligible offensive tackle in the country. Phil Steele’s preseason magazine ranked the 6’4” 274-pound Smith as the ninth-best draft eligible offensive guard in the country.

With Kiper’s latest draft prospect rankings coming out earlier this week, he obviously does not believe Smith’s injury will impact his draft stock all that much. Before the regular season got underway, Smith was tabbed as a top-250 player for the Reese’s Senior Bowl, an event that can help boost his draft stock if he gets himself healthy.

According to the game’s website, the event “serves as the first step of the NFL draft process.” Scheduled to take place on Jan. 30, 2021 in Mobile, Alabama, the game is known for attracting large numbers of NFL scouts and personnel ahead of the draft in April.

In light of the news about his intentions, Smith took to Twitter to thank his coaches, teammates and Pirate Nation in a series of tweets.

“I would like to thank my East Carolina family (my coaches, teammates, trainers and many more) for providing support and guidance in ways that they can to assist me also,” Smith wrote, in part. “ECU will always be a part of my heart and I will always be a Pirate for life.”

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