MINUTE, Va. — Shortly after 9:15 a.m. on Wednesday, Brandon Smith grabbed a pen and signed the papers that signified he would be spending much of his time during the next 3-4 years in State College. Smith, all 6-5 and 228 pounds of him, wore salmon-colored pants, a blue PSU pullover, a blue Penn State bowtie and a blue PSU baseball cap.
Smith was seated at a small table inside the Louisa County High School cafeteria. Now his signing day news conference was complete with his decision to play for James Franklin’s Nittany Lions.
Seated at the table around Brandon was his grandfather, Matt, father Rico, mom Cynthia and younger brother Jordan. Standing behind Brandon was Louisa County football coach Will Patrick, and off to the side stood athletic director George Stanley, who played defensive line at Virginia a while back. A small gathering of friends and family looked on as Brandon Smith, considered by some to be the top inside linebacker prospect in the country, had made it official.
It was a big day for Penn State football and an even bigger day for the Smith family and Louisa County football.
The Lions locked down their only five-star recruit in the 2019 class and Brandon’s parents were ecstatic that he followed through on his Penn State decision. From the early stages, Penn State was the only choice Rico, Cynthia and Brandon really considered after visiting with Franklin and defensive coordinator Brent Pry a couple of times in State College.
Brandon Smith, according to Patrick, is the first major college football scholarship player ever to come out of Louisa County.
Soon, Brandon and his family were FaceTiming with Franklin and his Penn State staff, who were collecting signatures back in State College. One of the Lions’ top defensive assistants, line coach Sean Spencer, was dressed as Santa Claus, bringing a roar from the Smith family.
For the record, Brandon Smith signed to play with Penn State at 7:13 a.m. but the Louisa County signing day news conference was scheduled to be an in-school ceremony, so Brandon did it again with his friends and family watching two hours later.
How excited was Franklin when he spoke to Brandon at the start of the day?
“Coach Franklin is always a pretty excited guy,’’ said Smith, who will travel to Orlando, Florida on Dec. 29 to take part in the Under Armour All-America practices and the official game. “So yeah, he was definitely excited when I talked to him earlier, but he’s always excited.”
And after Smith’s Under Armour experience, he will enroll at Penn State in early January, making him eligible for winter conditioning drills and spring practice. Smith plans to be a criminology major.
The PSU football winter workouts tend to make some of the best freshmen cringe as they struggle to adjust to the demands of strength coach Dwight Galt’s program. But Patrick, who was fullback on the 2004 James Madison team that won the NCAA Division I-AA national championship, said Smith hasn’t backed away from anything during his last three years at Louisa County.
Both Patrick and Rico said Brandon turned the corner early in his sophomore year at Louisa County. After spending his freshman season at neighboring Fork Union Military Academy, Brandon switched schools and spent the first two games of his sophomore year at outside linebacker.
After an uninspiring effort in the second game, Rico said he challenged his son, knowing that he was capable of much better. And then shortly before Louisa County’s third game, the starting middle linebacker was removed from the team.
Brandon moved to the middle. The result was transformative.
“He had about 17 tackles in that game,’’ Rico Smith said.
“We put him in at middle linebacker and didn’t take long for us to figure out he runs better sideline to sideline than anyone we’ve ever had,’’ said Patrick, recalling the game. Patrick was the offensive coordinator on the Louisa County team that season and was named head coach prior to the 2018 season.
“I just love being able to do what I do best and that’s just run sideline to sideline,’’ Brandon Smith said.
But Patrick said Smith is special because of the way he approaches the game.
“There was a change in him,’’ Patrick said.
“Brandon always has been a great athlete but the last two seasons he has been just a different player, a more physical player. His willingness to hit and tackle, it was really something to watch. He didn’t hit you, he exploded into you.”
“Here’s all you need to know about Brandon Smith,” Patrick added.
“When it was 5:54 p.m. on a Tuesday and practice was over, Brandon Smith was always up at the front doing the running during conditioning drills. And how many guys with that kind of talent want to run conditioning drills?”