For Brandon Smith, it was always all about family.
Surrounded by brothers, parents, aunts and uncles, coaches, friends and teammates in the Alan Jackson Theater in Mineral, the Louisa County linebacker gave a verbal commitment to Penn State University on Monday afternoon.
Smith was an integral part of a Louisa defense that helped the Lions all the way to a state runner-up appearance in December, nearly completing a storybook run in legendary head coach Mark Fischer’s final season.
With a population of around 35,000, Louisa County has fewer residents than Penn State has students. But State College is a small town in an oft-forgotten portion of a large state bookended by two cities with long professional sports traditions. It’s an area that’s culturally similar to Louisa and the perfect environment for the college football-crazed culture that Penn State thrives on.
“They gave me that Southern hospitality even though I was in the North,” Smith said.
It also boasts a stadium in excess of 100,000 seats, perhaps appropriate for a product of the program which routinely draws the largest crowds in Central Virginia on Friday nights.
Will Patrick, Fischer’s former offensive coordinator, will step into the head role this year. Anyone can see that Smith is a special kid on the field. But Patrick knows better than anyone that Smith is also a special kid off of it.
Patrick’s wife is a teacher at nearby Moss-Nuckols Elementary School. Smith, who every Friday mentors a student named LaRod, stops by Mrs. Patrick’s room and gives his new coach’s wife a hug.
“He doesn’t have to do that,” Patrick said. That’s just the kind of kid he is.”
Smith, a five-star recruit according to 247Sports listed at 6-foot-4, 223 pounds, had offers from essentially every Division I school in the country, picked Penn State after taking a variety of junior days, official and unofficial visits to Clemson, Alabama, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Georgia, Virginia Tech, UVa and Michigan according to 247. Smith clocks in with a 4.5 40-yard dash, a 35-inch vertical, a 290-pound bench press, a 400-pound squad and a 425-pound deadlift. He’s also an explosive, gritty hitter and has played everything from longsnapper to wideout in a variety of roles for the Lions. He’s the No. 1 recruit in Virginia according to ESPN.
During the Lions’ run to the state title game where they fell to Salem, Smith piled up 119 tackles including 73 solo stops and 18 tackles for a loss. He also forced seven quarterback hurries despite mostly playing as a read-an-react type linebacker for a defense that was loaded with playmakers, including Jefferson District player of the year Tony Thurston, Devin McGhee-Jackson and Job Whalen just to name a few.
Smith was also a member of Louisa’s resurgent basketball program, which made it to the regional semifinals this season under Robert Shelton. It was a basketball family which featured many of Smith’s football teammates.
“Brandon’s probably one of the best kids I’ve ever coached in terms of recovery,” Shelton said. “you’re going to run into things and situations you can’t immediately figure out. Brandon is good at analyzing and figuring those things out. He’ll be successful whatever he chooses to do.”
Smith joins a program that posted a 10-2 record and defeated Washington in the Fiesta Bowl last season under former Maryland assistant James Franklin. But according to the linebacker, it was the sense of family that put Penn State at the top.
“Coach Franklin is an amazing guy, an amazing coach and an amazing family man,” Smith said, “On my visit, he called his daughters from the car to tell them he loved them and he’d be running late back from work. I liked just seeing that he cares no matter where he’s at.”