Penn State is among several Power 5 football programs hoping to secure a commitment from 5-star linebacker Brandon Smith when he announces a decision Monday. The Nittany Lions have hosted him frequently since extending a scholarship offer in April 2017, but face significant competition for the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Louisa County (Mineral, Va.) High School standout.
Smith, listed 30th overall in 247Sports 2019 composite rankings, claims more than 30 offers. His most recent university visits include Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech.
Penn State last welcomed him to campus on April 7, and previously hosted Smith four times in 2017. Those trips included the Nittany Lions’ victory over Pittsburgh and mid-July Lasch Bash festivities, which featured appearances from Smith’s parents, younger brother, two uncles and grandparents.
Smith declined to go public with a list of favorites ahead of his announcement, bucking the common trend and moving straight to a final decision. An all-state performer last fall, he led Louisa County to Virginia’s Class-4A championship game while totaling 117 tackles — 18 for loss — and 6 sacks as a junior.
Brandon aims to stay out of the media spotlight until his pledge goes public but his father, Rico, discussed the upcoming decision with Land of 10 on Thursday. Here’s what he said about a variety of developments that have helped determine the outcome of a widespread process.
What makes this the right time for a commitment?
Brandon approached his parents in late April expressing a desire to wrap up the recruitment. It was a slight surprise since the family had discussed a possible early-season announcement.
“When the evaluation period came this spring, it was a lot of the same old things — the visits, the texts, all that,” Rico said. “Brandon was basically like, ‘We’ve been everywhere that we need to go. We’ve seen all we need to see. I think it’s time to close the chapter on this.'”
Following a period of reflection to determine whether or not that feeling sustained, the family opted to move forward and scheduled a May 21 ceremony. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a high school athlete better prepared to make this choice.
Brandon and his family packed dozens of visits into the last year and maintained a steady pace of research throughout.
“We prayed on this thing, we talked about it and did all our due diligence,” Rico said. “We attacked this whole process in a way I think coaches at some of these schools are not used to. Every visit we went on — both parents, brother, uncle and sometimes more people. We did that on purpose. We wanted everybody’s perspective and input. They’ve had input on his life to this point and this is an especially important time for him.”
Why did Brandon Smith use only one official visit?
Though the Smiths have been as active as any family on the recruiting trail, they embarked on only one of Brandon’s five available official visits. That occurred April 20-22 at Texas A&M, where first-year Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher attempted to expand a relationship that started during the coach’s Florida State tenure.
Rico, operating under the assumption that a commitment would likely wait until perhaps September, explained the plan wasn’t to shut down official visits after that trip.
“We talked to a lot of schools that wanted to get us there for May and June officials or events in July — kind of like the Lasch Bash at Penn State — but we had no expectations for what we were going to do next [after the Texas A&M visit],” Rico said.
Camps and a family vacation presented some scheduling conflicts but, ultimately, it was determined additional official visits weren’t necessary.
“A couple of weeks ago Brandon felt in his heart he was ready, and now this is where we’re at,” Rico said.
If Brandon selects a school other than Texas A&M, it’s safe to anticipate he’ll use a second official visit to that university. But the on-campus sales pitches to an uncommitted Smith and his family are a thing of the past.
“We’ve seen plenty of places. Some once, some a few times. Some places we enjoyed, some places we didn’t. The main thing is, we’ve done our homework,” Rico said. “We’ve seen and heard a lot of things along the way. Everyone tries to paint the best picture they possibly can but we’ve always tried not to get caught up in too much other than what’s best for Brandon.”
What’s next for Brandon Smith after the announcement?
After shutting down his recruitment, Smith will shift complete focus toward individual and team goals on the football field.
Louisa County lost a vast majority of starters from its 2017 state title game run, so Brandon has embraced an even larger leadership role this offseason. He is also set to compete at The Opening Finals, an annual Nike football showcase event featuring abundant NFL talent on its alumni list.
After accomplishing his long-term goal of competing at The Opening Finals, Brandon will return home for the final stretch toward senior-season training camp.
“As well as he did last year as a player and as a team overall, great competitors keep striving,” Rico said. “Brandon is not going to be satisfied staying where he’s at now or where he’s been.”
He is slated to enroll at a university in January, competing with his new team during the 2019 spring practice period.
“He’s all qualified, everything is good,” Rico said. “There’s no need to go for an entire [senior] year when he only needs two classes. It’s the best thing to do because it allows him to hopefully get a college degree in three, three-and-a-half years. And wherever he goes, Brandon wants to contribute early in some capacity. Those are some of his short-term goals so we lined things up that way.”
If Penn State is the pick, why?
It’s been apparent for much of the last year that Penn State would be a program under Smith’s long-term consideration, regardless of his commitment timeline. Routine returns to Happy Valley and sustained dialogue between Nittany Lions staff members, Brandon and his family set the stage for serious contention.
“From Day 1, Penn State has always made a great impression on all of us,” Rico said. “Relationships are so important, and we’ve established a great one with them. They’ve done a good job with being consistent.”
Rico was then quick to point out that other programs have created a similar impact. Keeping in theme with the lack of a favorites list, he didn’t specifically reference a single school during our discussion unless it was directly referenced.
Brandon will end any speculation at approximately 5 p.m. Monday.
“It’s been a fun process,” Rico said. “The unfortunate thing is you can only pick one school. The fortunate thing is we’ve done everything we could to prepare him for this moment.”