BUIES CREEK Braden Smith just wanted to play quarterback. He wasn’t quite sure where. Campbell desperately needed a quarterback, but if it was going to be a transfer, it had to be the right transfer – maybe a player the head coach at Campbell had known since he was 8 years old, the son of a coach himself.
Campbell coach Dale Steele ran into Smith and his father at a coaching convention in the spring of 2011. Steele and Smith’s father had coached together at Baylor. Steele just lost two-year starter Daniel Polk, who transferred to Campbell from N.C. State. Smith was free to transfer anywhere, having graduated from SMU with two years of eligibility left.
“The good Lord just blessed us,” Steele said. “We just happened to be the right fit for him when he wanted to make a change. I can’t take credit for doing any of that. … He was just a perfect fit for us, at the right time. We were very blessed that it happened at a time when we needed a player of his caliber to come in and contribute. If you got a quarterback nowadays, you’re pretty good.”
With Smith at quarterback leading Campbell’s first senior class, the Camels went 6-5, 5-3 in the Pioneer League, as he set school records with 1,965 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. Expectations are higher this season now that he has a full command of the offense, beginning with Thursday night’s opener at Barker-Lane Stadium against Shorter.
A two-star recruit by both Scout and Rivals out of Rockwall (Texas) High School in 2008, where he played for his father, Smith went to SMU hoping to be the next big star in a pass-happy spread offense. After redshirting his first year, he threw five passes as a freshman. He was moved to safety as a sophomore, then linebacker. By the time he had his English degree in hand, he had a hankering to get back under center.
“The thing that made me look to play quarterback again was I knew that my playing days were limited,” Smith said. “I’ll get to coach for a long time, hopefully, but I really wanted to play quarterback.”
He figured that would be somewhere in Texas. Instead, he ended up about as far from Texas as you can get without learning a new language. But Smith grew up moving from town to town as his father went from job to job – eight times before he got to high school – and he’d made the switch from big to small before.
Since then, he’s changed the game for Campbell. Having been a part of SMU’s resurgence, he set new standards for the Camels in the weight room and on the practice field. It’s not that they weren’t trying before, but Smith raised the bar. He’s also helped groom his successor, sophomore Dakota Wolf, and picked this year’s team slogan, “We left yesterday,” a Patton quote about anticipating and preparing for future events that was used at SMU.
“That’s what we needed – his maturity, his leadership,” Steele said. “When you’re starting a young program, a lot of these kids had never seen the amount of work, what it took to achieve success. (Smith) had.”
Smith, who will graduate in December with a Masters in education, plans to return to Texas. He was married in May, and his wife Bekah has been admitted to graduate school near Dallas. He plans on getting into coaching, and once he gets there, he’ll figure out his next step.
“I never envisioned getting too far out of Texas,” Smith said. “But I’ve been enjoying it since I’ve been here.”