Brad Smith is a legend in Columbia.
Smith’s performances against Nebraska in 2003 and 2005 are immortalized in poster-form at many bars in the city. Even though he used up his collegiate eligibility last season, Missouri football jerseys with his No. 16 are a common sight around town. Someday, his name will be permanently displayed at Memorial Stadium along with other Tigers’ greats such as Kellen Winslow and Don Faurot.
But now with the New York Jets, Smith is just an anonymous rookie wide receiver trying to make an impact for a 1-1 team not expected to win half of its games. Selected in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Smith had to adjust to living in New York, a city vastly different from any other he had ever lived in.
“It’s refreshing to live there,” Smith said. “So far, I’m enjoying it.”
Ironically, Smith had to leave middle America for New York to find refuge from the media. Smith said he has had to do “only a few” interviews since the season started. Not that he minds.
“It’s kind of refreshing not to have quite as much attention,” Smith said. “I can just sit back in the locker room and watch all the reporters talk to Laveranues (Coles) and Chad (Pennington).”
“I’m kind of a low-key guy so it’s not that bad to not have to do that many interviews.”
Smith, two games into his first season with the Jets, is relishing his relative anonymity. His was one of the most recognizable faces in Columbia. In New York, Smith can stroll through the city unrecognized and enjoy a quiet time with his friends or family. If he wants.
“I really don’t have too much time to enjoy Manhattan and the nightlife,” Smith said. “I’m just trying to stay focused on what I have to do and work hard.”
“It’s pretty far from where I live.”
Smith lives on Long Island, near the Jets’ practice facilities in Hempstead, N.Y. While he lives about 20 miles from New York City, he has developed some likes and dislikes about the city.
“I’ve really gotten to like New York-style pizza,” Smith said. “It’s not better or worse than Columbia’s or anything like that, it’s just different.”
“I like to see all of the sights of New York. All of the different places and different ethnicities.”
But that pizza and any souvenirs, Smith said, probably cost more than they should.
“Everything’s so expensive here,” Smith said. “I’m not used to having to pay some of these prices.”
If his transition to wide receiver from quarterback goes as he and the Jets expect, Smith won’t have any problem paying for an extra slice of pizza. So far though, Smith has been quiet. In the Jets first game, a 23-16 win against the Tennessee Titans, Smith caught one pass for 13 yards and ran twice for 13 yards. In New York’s second game, a 24-17 loss to the New England Patriots, Smith caught no passes. His biggest contribution was tackling New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi after Bruschi intercepted Pennington’s pass late in the game.
“I don’t really have any expectations for myself in terms of touchdowns or yards,” Smith said. “I just want to try to make a positive impact any way I can.”
In many games with Missouri, Smith eclipsed 26 total yards after one or two plays. Now, Smith is just trying to adjust to a new position and a higher level of play at the same time, a challenge that he acknowledges.
“Overall, it’s been good,” Smith said of his adjustment to being a wide receiver. “I don’t think about being a quarterback anymore. There are some things that I’ve picked up since I’ve been here.”
His experience as a quarterback, however, may bode well for his future in the NFL. The Arizona Cardinals’ Anquan Boldin and Antwaan Randle El of the Washington Redskins both played quarterback in college and are now considered standout wide receivers. Smith said he thinks being a former quarterback can help a wide receiver.
“I know how a quarterback is supposed to think,” Smith said. “I know what quarterbacks want out of their receivers and how they should run their routes and where they need to be on the field.”
His route-running, Smith said, is something that needs work but is improving.
“The level of play here is two times as good as it was back in college,” Smith said. “Everybody here can play and you have to be real sharp all the time.”
“In the pros, everybody goes hard all of the time so you have to go 100 percent all of the time.”