Gideon Smith became the first African American to play football for the university and is believed to be the third African American to play college football. He was initially turned away from the freshman football team when Aggies coach John Macklin refused to issue Smith a uniform. This did not deter Smith as he reported to practice wearing high school equipment that he had borrowed from classmate. Macklin was impressed and allowed him to stay on the squad, this was in 1913. He had an immediate impact on the football field. He led MAC to a victory over rival Michigan by a score of 12-7, it has been called one of the biggest upsets in college football history. Another notable performance came during the game against Akron where Smith had a 95 yard fumble recovery and a 60 yard touchdown sprint on the way to a 75-6 victory.
After graduation, Smith went on to play professional football for the Canton Bulldogs alongside football legend Jim Thorpe, and won the league championship that year. After his brief appearance on the Canton Bulldogs, Smith enlisted in the army and served in World War 1. After this he returned to Virginia where he began to teach Physical Education at Hampton University. His heart remained on the football field however and in 1921 he became the head football coach at Hampton University, a position he would hold for 20 years, amassing a record of 97-46-12. After coaching, Smith became an assistant athletic director at the university until his death in 1968 at the age of 78.