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March 9, 2006

What a ride it's been

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - One day when he was in the first grade, Brian Smith's father put him in the car and didn't tell him where he was going. A few hours later, Smith's football career had begun.

"When I got in the car, I didn't have a clue where I was going," said Smith, a fast-rising linebacker at St. Thomas Aquinas in suburban Kansas City.

"My dad didn't tell me where we were going. When I got back home, I had a helmet and shoulder pads."

Smith, who is 6-foot-2 1/2 and 220 pounds, should thank his father every day for that trip because now he's developed into one of the top prospects in the Midlands region with early scholarship offers from Kansas State and Missouri.

But Smith's father knew what he was doing by introducing football to his son.

You see, Chris Smith played fullback at Notre Dame and was known mainly as the key blocker for Allen Pinkett. He spent some time with the Chiefs and eventually called Kansas City home. So football is in Smith's blood and he took to the game like fish does water.

"I've always loved football," Smith said.

"I love playing linebacker because I get to be the playmaker. On offense you have to be a slave to the play and do exactly what the design is. When you're on defense, you make things happen. You have to predict the play before it happens, and then you react and go get the football."

Smith said he's worked hard to bring his game to the highest level possible. He prides himself on his technique and is always striving to get better.

"I've been told my footwork is one of my best qualities," he said. "I've worked hard to make sure that I take no false steps and that I'm always coming down hill to make the play. That's something I'm always trying to improve on with my coaches. It's the little things that help make you better."

Much to his father's pleasure, Smith's life is now all about athletics. Try to get him to talk about anything other than sports, and you won't get much of a response. Ask him what he does when he's not playing football, he'll talk about other sports.

"When I'm not playing football, I'm playing basketball," he said. "And when I'm not playing basketball, I'm in track. And when I'm not in track, I'm in off-season for football. I don't know what my life would be like without football in it."

That's why it's no surprise that after a long debate with himself he named Peyton Manning as his role model.

"There are so many great people and players, but nobody is like Peyton Manning," Smith said. "I try to pattern my game on how he does things. He's a student of football. When they played the Chiefs in the playoffs a few years back, he watched every single Chief game from that year and from the year before. I really look up to him and how smart and tough he is.

"I like how people look to him as the captain and depend on him. I was just named captain of our defense for next year, and that's such a big honor."

Drake Dunsmore said Smith's also a major competitor, just like Manning.

"He's one of the most competitive people I know," said Dunsmore, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound tight end/linebacker that is getting recruited by Kansas, Missouri, Georgia Tech and Boston College. "He even hates to lose in ping-pong. We go at it all the time, and he hates to lose.

"I met him last year, and he showed me what football is all about. He deserves all the honors that come his way because he's a great player and an even better person."

Smith didn't think he'd be honored this early with one let alone two scholarship offers. Kansas State was the first program to jump on board when Raheem Morris offered him a scholarship a few weeks ago.

"I was putting on my shoes for basketball practice, and coach (Kevin) Kopecky said K-State had offered me," Smith said. "I then called coach Morris later and we talked about some stuff. I went up there and he showed us around, and then I got the formal letter a few days after that.

"I like them already. They're so full of energy. There's no doubt they're going to turn that program around."

Missouri also offered just a few days ago. Smith said Tiger coach Andy Hill sent him a letter informing him about the offer.

"I came home, and my mom said 'did your dad tell you about Missouri,' I was like, 'what are you talking about,' " Smith said. "I then talked to my dad and he said he had talked to coach Hill and they had offered me a scholarship. My dad said he remember him from when he was trying out for the Chiefs. He said he met coach Hill back when he was playing and really liked him.

"I'm going to go down to Missouri next weekend to see how things look."

Smith said he was a Michigan fan early in his life, but that quickly turned to a love for the Fighting Irish when his father took him to a game in South Bend. The trip for the Michigan-Notre Dame game quickly made him a big Notre Dame fan, and it's a love affair that continues today.

At this point, Notre Dame hasn't showed him a ton of interest, but along with K-State and Missouri, teams like Wisconsin and Kansas have been in contact via mail.

It's obvious from talking to Smith that family is important to him. He said his mother, Billie Smith, is also educated on everything football and she's the one that pushes him hard when it comes time to hit the books.

But Smith knows that he will forever hold a special spot in his heart for his dad because he introduced him to the game he loves. And that love for the game started with a unannounced car ride.


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