By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG - When he was playing football at Lewisburg High, Nathaniel Brown once joked in a film session after watching himself throw a block that if he could block for himself, he would have a lot more yards.
Perhaps his former teammate, Lewisburg senior Brandon Smith has wondered what it would be like to cover himself, or to run the ball with his clone at linebacker.
And perhaps Lewisburg coach Jeremy Winn has wondered if he could clone his starting fullback/linebacker.
Smith, by a unanimous vote of the newspaper’s sports department, is the 2012 Daily Item Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. In fact, unlike the votes for the other all-star team members, there was little if any discussion on who would receive the top two player awards.
Smith, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound three-sport star (state medalist in both wrestling and track & field) was the leader both emotionally and physically for the Green Dragons as they compiled an 8-3 record, with a 37-33 loss versus Montoursville preventing them from returning to the District 4 Class AA semifinals.
So, if it were possible, how would Smith the linebacker stop Smith the fullback, and vice versa?
“If I was a fullback running against myself, I would stay close behind my blockers until I knew there was an open hole. As a linebacker, it is a real pain in the butt to have to make a tackle on a bigger guy when you have blockers hanging all over you. So, if I were running the ball against myself, I would definitely just get behind one of the big boys until there was an opening.
“If I was the linebacker trying to tackle myself, I would just fly to the ball as fast as I could and try to blow up the blockers so the runner would not have anywhere to go. If all the holes were plugged it would be easier to tackle myself at an angle instead of straight on,” Smith said.
Smith said if he had to choose, he would pick linebacker over running back because of both the physical and mental challenges.
“Sometimes when I’m running the ball, I’ll get hit from three different directions all at once, so it’s not always easy to control the tempo. But, as a linebacker, I get to be in control of my own body and do my best to make sure I’m the one giving the big hit.”
He said the other attraction is getting to make reads. “Running backs usually know about where the hole will be, so you just get to it and make something happen. As a linebacker, it requires a lot more brain activity. The first read comes from the first step of the guard (when playing against the wing-T) to see if it’s a run or pass, and which way it’s going. Or sometimes its the fullback. Next, your eyes shift to the ball. On a run you have to take the best route to the ballcarrier remembering how to take on blocks on your way there and make a tackle. If it’s a pass you have to know what coverage it is and drop accordingly and find the receiver and find the quarterback’s eyes.”
Smith’s statistics are presented elsewhere in this section. What they do not show is the heart of the player.
“The thing about Brandon is his desire,” said his first-year coach, Jeremy Winn. “He is the type of player that makes everyone else around him better. The players feed off his work ethic.”
Winn said that Smith does everything a coach could ask for and he could see improvement and see him becoming more comfortable on offense every week. “He really allowed us to do many different things within the offense that, if we didn’t have him, we could not have done.”
Winn said that for a player to lead his team in both rushing and receiving is pretty special and something he had not seen before.
“On the defensive side, he was just remarkable. He has great reactions to the football and is able to tackle with authority,” the first-year Lewisburg coach said.
Winn said when teams had what looked like a big hole, Smith was able to stop them for a short or no gain. Winn added that he can remember looking at the opponents’ sideline and seeing them shaking their heads, because they knew there wasn’t much they could do to stop him.
Winn said he was told when he took the Lewisburg job that Smith was as great a person as he is an athlete, and he quickly found that to be true.
“I would not be surprised that when he makes a college decision that team is going to get a person who is going to be an All-Conference, All-American and a captain, and not just as a football player, but as a person as well,” Winn said.
The three-time all-state linebacker said he has narrowed his search to Penn State, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and Bucknell, unless another opportunities comes along.
In addition wrestling, Smith looks forward to next month when he and his girlfriend, Andrea Cole, and her sister, Emily Cole, will go to Honduras to deliver 2,000 pairs of shoes to needy children. The Cole sisters raised the money to purchase the footwear. “I’m just excited that they wanted to involve me in this trip. It will be a life-changing experience,” Smith said.