As a high school linebacker, Brandon Smith stayed awake until 3 a.m. most Saturdays, waiting for film of his previous night’s game.
When it finally uploaded, Smith watched for an hour, then watched it again with his teammates at 8 a.m.
Smith intends to be just as devoted to such study at Penn State, where he’s among the prized defensive players of the 2019 recruiting class. Smith already has enrolled in college and isn’t straying from his plan.
“Those are the things you have to do if you want to be great,” Smith said before last week’s Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando. “There are people who would be up at a party, but for me, I don’t get into all that. I have goals for my family and my future. So if this is one of the sacrifices I have to make, I’ll do it.”
Classic outside linebacker: Smith, the five-star prospect of Penn State’s 2019 class, projects as classic outside linebacker. He’s a 6-3, 225-pound playmaker whom his high school coach called “one of the most explosive athletes I’ve ever seen.” Smith was Virginia’s 2018 Gatorade Player of the Year at Louisa County High, making 300 tackles (45 for losses) in his last two seasons.
A two-time team captain, Smith helped Louisa County to a 25-2 record the past two years and was a finalist for the Maxwell Club’s national defensive player-of-the-year award. He can change games with single plays: Smith forced 14 fumbles the past two seasons. As a junior, he blocked six kicks.
Louisa County coach Will Patrick said that Smith’s “ability to diagnose plays and command the defense is second to none.” Smith is most proud of what informs that ability: his study habits.
Devoted to film study: Smith and his father, Maurice, began watching film together when Smith was a freshman. They studied opposing offenses, identifying lineman and running-back tendencies, then tried to overlay Smith onto the field in those situations.
Once it became a habit, Smith said he didn’t have to be told to study film.
“If I know there’s a game uploaded, boom, I’m right there,” he said. “I know what to do in certain situations because of the countless hours I spend watching film.”
Connecting with PSU: As a sophomore, Smith and his father sent highlights to Penn State, which prompted an offer to visit campus. That visit didn’t produce a scholarship offer, though.
The next one did, part of a process Penn State coach James Franklin called vital to recruiting both Smith and his family.
“They came up here and we didn't offer, and he had offers from everybody. A lot of times when you do that, guys leave and they feel slighted,” Franklin said in December. “And for whatever reason, that was something that they really liked — that we weren't just going to throw an offer out. We wanted to know the family. We probably take a different approach to a lot of people. When we offer, it's serious.”
Becoming friends with Arrington: Smith didn’t know much about Penn State’s legacy as “Linebacker U” before beginning the recruiting process. Since then, he has studied the tradition and befriended former all-America linebacker LaVar Arrington, now a high school coach in California.
Smith and Arrington first met at last season’s “Whiteout” game, and one piece of advice from Arrington has stuck with him: Don’t get bored. By graduating early and enrolling at Penn State in January, Smith proved he’s ready to accelerate the pace.
That could get him on the field as early as next season. Both Smith and fellow linebacker Lance Dixon enrolled early and will be on campus for spring practice. As a result, Franklin said the linebacker room “has gotten competitive real quick.”
“Like really competitive,” Franklin said. “It’s obviously been competitive since we've been here, but I'm talking about a whole other level.”