---- — By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
He owns the most common surname in the United States, but as early as eighth grade, coaches in three sports saw Brandon Smith had uncommon talents.
The recent Lewisburg High School graduate and current walk-on football player at Penn State University, capped his brilliant four-year career with performances that ranked him among the best in the state in football, wrestling and track.
For his accomplishments, Smith, son of Jeff and Deb Smith, is The Daily Item's Male Athlete of the Year for 2013, in a unanimous vote of the newspaper's sports department.
When told of the honor this past week, Smith, in his usual soft-spoken and humble manner said simply, "It's an honor to get it."
Although he set lofty goals and had some disappointments in his senior year, Smith looks back on it as one filled with proud moments.
"It was a great year," the three-sport star said.
In football, Smith was named an all-state linebacker for the third consecutive year and became the first player ever to be named The Daily Item's Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. The latter was his third nod in a row.
In wrestling, he made his first trip to the PIAA Class AA final, settling for the silver medal at 215 pounds, his second state medal in the sport. In track, he earned a medal in the javelin throw for the third year in a row.
Smith's friendly nemesis in wrestling, Milton senior Ryan Solomon, who himself had an outstanding season, was the unanimous runner-up pick for this year's award. Solomon was a two-time state wrestling champ -- undefeated in his career versus Smith -- an outstanding football player and came out for baseball and had an outstanding season in that sport as well.
Others who received votes were Danville basketball, football and baseball star Bret Berg; Mount Carmel football stud Eric Joraskie; Southern Columbia football and basketball athlete Luke Rarig; Lewisburg runner Sean Walker; Selinsgrove soccer, basketball and baseball standout David Aurand; Mifflinburg football player and wrestler Nazar Mironenko; baseball Player of the Year Nick Dunn; and East Juniata football, basketball and baseball standout Nick Lorenz.
Smith said that, although the football season didn't end as he had hoped, the team did better than many people expected and that was in part the result of the hard work put in by the players and coaches.
"We had a new coaching staff and I got to play fullback, which was a lot better than tight end and receiver, which I was used to," Smith said.
First-year Lewisburg head coach Jeremy Winn, talking about Smith after last season, said, "He is a player that plays with a great motor and that work ethic and leadership has prepared him for his successes. I can remember looking at the opponent's sideline and seeing them shaking their heads, because they knew there wasn't much you could do to stop him."
Winn also marveled at the fact that Smith, playing a new position with a new coaching staff, still led the team in rushing, scoring and receiving.
The coach said that, while nothing Smith did surprised him, he recalled saying "wow" to assistant coach Marlin Persing on the head-set a few times.
Smith said being so close to getting to the final in state wrestling as a junior motivated him for this season. He did get to the final this year and lost, but, he said, "I didn't get the gold, but I overall I'm happy."
He said he was driven by the realization that, as a junior, he was a second away from a victory that would have gotten him to the final. He finished fifth.
Smith added that his workout partner, assistant coach Eddie Magrys, had a lot to do with his successful season. "He beat the crap out of me all year at practice and I wouldn't have done what I did without him," Smith said.
Lewisburg head wrestling coach Jim Snyder said, "As a coach, you get very few Brandon Smiths, if any. He would come to practice with the most positive attitude every day. It would carry over to his teammates and we would have very few poor practices as a group. And that was directly related to Brandon."
Snyder added, "We knew early on that football was his first love and we were glad to borrow him for a few months out of the year. He could have easily made the choice of just lifting like some others have in the past."
Smith agrees that athletes are better served by having a balance of things to do which includes, if they are interested, competing in multiple sports.
Smith loves football more than any other sport. "Especially when I was younger. I would play it year-round if I could, but I am glad I did all three (sports)."
In track, Smith said he was motivated by the chance to finally get a state championship, after taking sixth the previous year and ninth as a sophomore.
He didn't get it, settling for seventh on a chilly, windy day in Shippensburg, but "I still got a medal and I am proud of that."
His track coach, Mark Sundberg said, "While there were disappointments this past spring, medaling at states is nothing to sneeze at and we are proud of his achievements in track and field."
The Green Dragons' track coach said, "Brandon is a talented athlete who increasingly seeks ways to use those talents to maximize his performance. While clearly football has been the focus of his head and heart, the physical demands of our sport (track and field) have challenged him to move beyond the skill levels of the gridiron."
Nick Slotterback, Smith's throws coach, said, "Because of his strengths in many events he was looked up to by several of his teammates, and that seemed to push his teammates to get better at their respective events."
Like his other coaches, Sundberg praised Smith for the positive attitude he always brought to practices and meets. "Whenever an athlete can exude that to his teammates, it is a plus," he said.
And no matter how his college career unfolds in Happy Valley, Penn State coaches from Bill O'Brien on down can expect the same from one of Lewisburg's greatest athletes.
n Email comments to sports editor Harold Raker at firstname.lastname@example.org.