New beginning

The unknowns surrounding Brad Smith’s pro launch signal big changes
Friday, April 28, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:34 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

A lone temporary tent was erected on the north concourse of Memorial Stadium in mid-April for an autograph session before the Black and Gold game. Brad Smith, Missouri’s star quarterback over the past four years, was making his last public appearance before this weekend’s NFL draft.

The line stretched back to the gate more than an hour before the session even began. The warm sun shone down and the crystal Independence Bowl trophy gleamed as jersey-clad fans reveled in Smith’s heroic performance in the game that took place more than four months ago.

Then Smith was led into the stadium, stylishly dressed in all-white. Fans nervously whispered amongst themselves, wondering what to say or ask their favorite player.

Some of them already knew just what to say. One child presented Smith with a hand-drawn sketch declaring Smith to be the best. A college-aged man walked up to Smith like an old friend, slapped a high-five, and told him they would see him later. When asked who the guy was, Smith replied, “I have no idea,” with a huge grin on his face.

A few minutes after the start of the game, fans had to be turned away because they kept coming to talk with Smith and get his autograph. People even mobbed him on the way out to his car. Smith was clearly the main attraction at the game.

This is how things have been for Smith ever since his freshman year when he racked up over 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing. Although he didn’t live up to the Heisman hype, fans adored Smith and teammates respected him. Smith is hoping the numbers he accumulated, 8,799 yards passing and 4,289 yards rushing, will propel him to NFL success. The rushing mark is a record for NCAA quarterbacks.

In the offseason, Smith worked out as a quarterback, receiver and even as a return specialist. If he had his pick, however, Smith said he would be a quarterback.

“I want to play QB because that’s what I see myself doing and being able to help a team as,” he said. “There are lots of guys out there like Steve Young who didn’t play ‘til they got the chance. There are guys like Seneca Wallace who are the backup QB and also line up sometimes at receiver. I’d be open to doing something like that.”

Since some teams were interested in Smith as a receiver at MU’s pro day in March, Smith has worked on developing skills as a wideout. He said that playing as a quarterback gave him knowledge about how routes develop and what to look for in the defense’s coverage. Despite this knowledge, Smith admitted there were some surprises in learning the position.

“Running the routes, there was lots of footwork involved and everything was full-speed all the time,” he said. “The part that surprised me was how much energy it takes because you’re constantly running everywhere.”

Most teams considered Smith to be a receiver project. At 6 feet, 2 inches tall with a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, scouts said Smith had a great combination of size and speed to excel in the position but were hung up on the fact that Smith had never actually played the position.

If a team were to draft Smith as a receiver, Smith said that he would have no hesitations, despite his dreams of becoming a quarterback. Current draft projections on the Web site have Smith going in the third round, while those from Scouts Inc. have him going in the seventh. So realistically, Smith could go just about anywhere to any team in the league to play who knows what position.

“I don’t ever look at those things,” Smith said. “Most of those people are just guessing as to where players will end up. People never know what’s going to happen on draft day.”

No matter where Smith ends up, there will almost certainly be a dramatic change in his life. He will no longer be the main attraction he has been in Columbia. The screaming fans, the slapping of high-fives with random strangers, even the artwork from children will likely cease to exist in the city where he ends up. The process of showcasing his skills and enchanting a city starts back at square one.

On Saturday, members of his immediate family will go to his Youngstown, Ohio, home to watch the NFL draft, which begins at 11 a.m. Central time.

His family will be watching to see where Smith will make his new beginning.

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