One morning this past January, MU quarterback Brad Smith sat at a table with Scott Ashton, director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in mid-Missouri. The pair were discussing plans for an upcoming FCA event to be held before the MU-Kansas basketball game. During the event, Ashton and Smith would be speaking in front of about 750 young people from across the region.
Strangers interrupted them four times during their 45-minute meeting to ask Smith for his autograph and to praise his on-the-field achievements. At the end of the meeting, Ashton asked Smith if all that attention bothered him.
“I don’t mind it,” Smith replied.
Eyes are always on Brad Smith. The 20-year-old was named an honorable mention All-American last year, after leading the Tigers to their first bowl game since 1998. After just two seasons, he holds the school record for total offense: 6,745 yards. College football pundits have him on preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists for the coming season.
Still, Smith stays humble. He believes his talent comes from a higher source, and his relationship with God is at the top of his priorities.
“It’s above one; it’s above any other number or person or thing,” Smith says.
"Worship ... is a lifestyle"
Smith, who was raised in the Pentecostal Church, makes his faith a part of his everyday life. It is a value his mother, Sherri Smith, instilled in him early in life.
“Worship for us is a lifestyle,” Sherri Smith says.
When MU coach Gary Pinkel was recruiting Smith, his family asked Pinkel to meet with their pastor and an elder from their church in Youngstown, Ohio.
“Brad’s relationship with the church and the pastor is more than a Sunday event,” says Sherri Smith, who is an executive assistant at Calvary Ministries International in Youngstown.
In fact, Brad Smith’s faith affects his whole life, from the field to the classroom to his time in the community.
“‘In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy path,’” Smith says, quoting Proverbs 3:6. “I try to acknowledge Him in everything.”
Moments after MU beat Nebraska, in what was arguably Smith’s biggest win, the MU quarterback was acknowledging God’s presence. He was not on his knees in prayer or pointing to the heavens as some vocal Christian athletes are apt to do. Rather, he was kneeling over a student who had been punched by a Nebraska player amid the celebration on the field. The episode was an example of Smith following the Golden Rule.
“God had to put that in me to even see that person,” Smith says. “It just felt like something I should do, just to check on him. I would want somebody to see if I was all right, to check on me if that happened.”
His concern for the young MU fan was still evident later when he talked with his mother. She says Brad questioned what could cause the Nebraska player to do such a thing.
“It’s a game, and we have to take it as such,” Sherri Smith says.
Football fame comes from faith
Brad Smith is serious about the game of football, but it is just a game to him — a game at which he excels. And he credits his Christian faith as the source of his success.
In Smith’s first collegiate game, he accounted for 290 yards of total offense, 152 yards passing and another 138 on the ground. After the game, he told reporters it wasGod’s influence that allowed to him perform at that level.
“It’s hard to explain,” Smith says. “I go out and try to prepare myself the best I can before the game and then practice and preparation and all that. Then, when I get out there, I just try to let God take over.”
Smith’s mother agrees that God is the source of his skills and strength on the football field.
“I just know there are times when Brad receives strength from God,” she says.
In spite of his accomplishments, friends and acquaintances say Smith — a sophomore marketing major who redshirted his freshman year — has not let success go to his head.
“God is not shocked that Brad Smith is an incredible athlete,” says Scott Willingham, the director of MU’s Athletes in Action, an international Christian organization that seeks to share the Gospel through sports.
Willingham, who sees Smith two or three times a week at AIA meetings, says Smith stays humble because he acknowledges that his speed and ability to evade tacklers comes from God.
“Out of his humility, he treats others as he would want to be treated,” Willingham says. “He really believes what the Bible says is true, and he’s willing to live it out.
“I think people are attracted to humble people,” Willingham says . “He’s the kind of person people want to know and be around.”
A perfect match
Smith’s roommate, tailback Tyrone Roberson, met Brad at freshman football camp when they both arrived on campus in summer 2001. At first, Smith seemed shy. Roberson realized the two should get together after he read Smith’s bio and saw that he was an active Christian. When they hung out in Smith’s room, Roberson – who only listens to gospel music – was impressed by Smith’s Christian music collection.
“I never met anybody like him – that spiritually strong,” says Roberson, whose parents pastor a church in St. Louis.
“God placed us here to be accountable to each other,” Roberson says. Like “iron sharpens iron,” they challenge each other in their faith, he says.
In spite of Smith’s quiet, business-like public persona, Roberson says his roommate is a clown behind closed doors.
“He’s real silly,” Roberson says. “He likes to have fun just like anybody.”
Roberson has encouraged Smith to use his sense of humor as an icebreaker when speaking in front of large audiences.
At the Fellowship of Christian Athletes event before the basketball game Jan. 31, FCA Director Ashton interviewed Smith and Roberson in front of a crowd of about 750 attentive teenagers.
Although speaking in public is something Smith considers more stressful than leading the MU football team, he’s willing to take on the challenge.
“It’s something I need to do,” Smith says. “Maybe I can help someone else.”