Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

SPORTS >> Smith has eyes on college prize

Lonoke senior Brandon Smith had 2,184 all-purpose yards for the ’Rabbits.

Leader sports editor

Brandon Smith doesn’t know where he’s going just yet, but it’s clear what is going to get him there.

Smith is the hard-nosed runner who helped Lonoke to the 4A state championship game and is now gunning for a major-college scholarship. He has proved himself a prospect with a style that is heavy on contact, and his efforts have made him The Leader offensive player of the year.

“I thought I did pretty good this year, I think,” said Smith in a masterpiece of understatement.
Smith, 5-11, 215 pounds, led the Jackrabbits with 1,953 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns, plus 231 receiving yards and three scores.

“He’s been our main ball carrier this year when we’ve relied on the running game,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “He gets tough yardage for us. Like we’ve said, he’d rather run through you than run around you.”

Smith’s lust for contact also helped the Jackrabbits on defense, where he had 56 tackles, three for losses, and two sacks at linebacker.

“A lot of people ask us whether or not his next stop is running back or linebacker,” Bost said. “I think he’s more of a running back. I think that’s what he wants to do.”

Smith said he just wants to play in college, on either side of the ball.

“It’s wherever I can be a part of a team,” Smith said. “If I could play linebacker, I would; if I could play running back, I would.

Any position, it doesn’t matter. I love both offense and defense. College recruiting is funny. It’s just where I’d fit in.”

Smith was certainly a good fit when he arrived at Lonoke as an eighth-grader in a transfer from Rose City.

“He jumped right in with this group of seniors,” said Bost, the long-time junior high coach until he took over the varsity program this year. “That’s definitely why we made it as far as we did. This is a tight group. They certainly get along.”

However the Jackrabbits were on the verge of falling apart in a turnover-marred, 2-3 start this season. A 33-13 loss to Bald Knob left the team struggling for answers, but a back-to-basics approach and an emphasis on fun in practice improved the attitude, and quarterback Michael Nelson added a dimension with his improved running.

Even then, Smith played a role.

“Michael has run for 680 yards this year and there’s a lot of times that, yes, we’ve asked him to block for Michael and then pass pickup and he does that,” Bost said.

Bost noted that Smith was frequently asked to take on defensive ends in the Lonoke protection scheme.

“A lot of times those are your bigger guys, usually, and he’s held his own against them that’s for sure,” Bost said.

Lonoke went on a nine-game winning streak following the Bald Knob loss to reach the Dec. 12 state championship against mighty Shiloh Christian in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

Shiloh Christian beat Lonoke 56-20 for its sixth title, but the Saints couldn’t quite silence Smith, who, with 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash, showed his quickness to the outside as he rushed for 140 yards and one touchdown.

“I noticed I could get to the outside on a couple plays because the blocking was pretty good,” Smith said. “I think I showcased my speed to the outside but it was mostly a balanced game for me.”

“He understands the running game,” Bost said. “He understands where to find the holes and how to hit them and get downhill.

He’s a 4.6 guy and he does have the speed to get there. The speed and the power and he’s got the size.”

Smith already has an offer from Henderson State, of the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference, and is scheduled for a post-holiday visit to Louisiana Tech, of the Western Athletic Conference and the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Arkansas State has collected film on Smith, and he is holding out hope he may hear from an SEC school or two. Smith said he would even walk on at a Mississippi State or a Vanderbilt if it came to that.

But it shouldn’t.

“He’ll play in college somewhere,” Bost said more than once during the season. “He’s too good not to.”