Texas Gunslinger

Quarterback left a big program in the Lone Star State for the chance to shine on and off the field at CU

He was a standout high school quarterback in Texas who regularly played before Friday night crowds that would outdraw a typical Saturday at Barker-Lane Stadium.

At Southern Methodist University, he was part of two bowl seasons, the first two in over 25 years for the once-elite football program.

To say Braden Smith expected to wind up in Buies Creek in his third year of eligibility would be a misstatement. But for Smith, who was named the Camel’s starting quarterback in the weeks leading into the 2011 football season, the move has become a blessing.

“Campbell was just the right fit,” said the Rockwall, Texas, native who as a senior in high school threw for 2,880 yards and 26 touchdowns. “It’s just exciting … playing quarterback is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m happy that I’m getting that chance.”

And Smith has taken full advantage of that chance.

Through eight games with Campbell, he’s led the Camels to a 5-3 record, already the most wins for the program since returning to football in 2007 after a 57-year absence. Along the way, Smith has thrown for 1,443 yards and a school-record 12 touchdowns against just 5 interceptions.

He has also twice taken home the Pioneer League Offensive Player of the Week award, most recently for his efforts in a triple-overtime comeback win over rival Davidson.

Without a doubt, Smith is making the most of his return under center.

While playing for former NFL coach June Jones at SMU, Smith was moved to defense after his redshirt freshman year so he could get more playing time. As the backup quarterback in 2009, he threw just 5 passes for the Mustangs, completing 2 for 19 yards. He also ran for 86 yards and scored a touchdown in a year that saw the 8-5 Mustangs would go on to beat Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl, 45-10.

In 2010, he played all 13 games as a backup linebacker and holder for field goals.

Despite the lack of playing time, Smith said his decision to leave SMU and come to Campbell had less to do with football and more to do with academics.

The son of Rockwall High School head football coach Scott Smith, Braden Smith is pursuing his Master’s degree in education at Campbell with hopes of following in his father’s footsteps as a coach. While he doesn’t need a Master’s to coach high school football like his father, he says the Master’s is beneficial when seeking a position at the college level.

“I really wanted to start my Master’s on time, and while searching for schools, I also kept my eyes and ears open for somewhere I’d have a chance to compete to play quarterback, too,” Smith said. “I looked at a few Div. III schools like Austin College (Sherman, Texas) and Hardin-Simmons, but for whatever reason, the Lord shut those doors and led me here.”

By the time his playing career is over, he will have had experience under two very different coaches in SMU’s Jones and Campbell’s Dale Steele, who coached with Braden Smith’s father for a short time at Baylor University.

For one, Jones is known for his elaborate passing attacks and spread offense, while Steele’s squads have been known for their smashmouth, run-first offenses. Beyond that, their styles are completely different, too, according to Smith.

“Neither of them do it the ‘right way’ or the ‘wrong way,’ but they’re definitely different,” he said. “And that’s been the biggest culture shock for me,” much more than moving from Dallas to Buies Creek.

“Jones was more relaxed and laid back as a coach. He didn’t use a whistle during practice, and I think we practiced in full pads a total of five times in my three years,” Smith said. “But here … shoot, it’s pads, it’s hitting, and it’s tough. But it’s been great to see how both coaches work.”

Despite Steele’s relationship with the Smith family — in addition to coaching with Scott Smith, Steele says the two families remain friends — Braden Smith said he wasn’t promised anything while talking to coaches here about coming to Campbell, and it took up to two weeks before the start of the season for Steele to name him his starter at quarterback.

Smith competed over the summer with sophomore Dakota Wolf, and according to Steele, the decision wasn’t easy.

“He and Dakota are both fine quarterbacks,” he said. “The margin between the two was minimal. We’re blessed to have two solid quarterbacks … that’s not something we’ve had before.”

Steele said Smith’s experience put him over the top.

“He’s very mature, a good leader, and he’s seen a lot of things as a player and as a quarterback in Conference USA that will help him here,” Steele said. “That experience … that ability to anticipate and to understand the game … that’s what set him apart. He’s an older player, and he’s played in a big setting before.”

— Billy Liggett, Assistant Director for Publications, from the Winter 2011 Campbell Magazine