Many of us who grew up in Pennsylvania spent our childhoods dreaming of the of the chance to play at Beaver Stadium in front of thousands of screaming fans on Saturdays. For most of us this dream is never actualized because of the immense talent required to make in on the Penn State football squad. However, for two local football players, this fantasy is about to become a reality.
Lewisburg's Brandon Smith and Warrior Run's Austin Fiedler have been recruited by Bill O'Brien as preferred walk-ons for the 2013 season.
For the last few seasons Brandon Smith has been a standout running back for Lewisburg. Last year he averaged nearly 8 yards per carry on his way to 1,095 rushing yards, and also brought down 30 receptions for an additional 366 yards. His 24 touchdowns were a major contributing factor to the successful 8-3 season the program enjoyed last year.
But Smith, who has been recruited as a linebacker, has been even more impressive defensively. He has made over 100 tackles in each of the last three seasons, all three of which he was named to the all-state first team. This season he recorded 122 tackles, had two sacks and recorded two interceptions.
Not only is Brandon Smith a great athlete, he is also smart, making him a double-threat. His athletic ability combined with his intelligence garnered interest amongst several Ivy League schools, such as Penn and Princeton, who were both willing to offer him an athletic scholarship. For a while, Smith admits, these offers were very attractive, especially since he intends on majoring in pre-med. However, childhood dreams are hard to shake, so Smith instead decided to go with his gut and turn down the scholarship offers for an opportunity to make it on the field as a member of his beloved Nittany Lions.
"I've made a good relationships with University of Penn and Princeton, but toward the end it was between going to Penn and Penn State," Smith said. "For a little bit I was thinking that I would go to Penn, because I loved the people, the coaches were great and it's a great education. But after talking to coach O'Brien I decided on Penn State."
In coming to this decision Brandon says that his girlfriend, Andrea Cole, helped him by by writing down 200 Bible verses, which he looks to for guidance.
"I have been pulling those out every day using them for encouragement," Smith said. "I pulled one out on Saturday and thought about the financial end of it, because as a walk-on it will be $24-$30,000 by the end of it at Penn State, and at Penn it would have been much cheaper. But I pulled out one Bible verse that said something like 'do not be obsessed with the money' and another that said 'all things are possible for he who believes'. By the end of it I pulled out six verses and had confirmation that Penn State was the place for me. I came to peace with that and ever since then I haven't had a doubt about it."
Next year for the Nittany Lions, Smith plans on playing linebacker and hopes to be up to 230 pounds by the beginning on the season. To achieve that goal he has been doing LSU's preseason workout under the guidance of a family friend.
When Smith makes it to camp this summer he won't have to worry about not knowing anybody on the team because he will be entering camp with a former on-field rival, Austin Fiedler of Warrior Run. Fiedler and Smith have spent some time together over the last year, as they both attended the majority of Penn State's home football games, sitting with each other on occasion. They have also both attended several football camps at Penn State, which has helped them build relationships with various coaches and players on the team.
Fiedler, who stands at 6-foot-6, 285 pounds, was a beast on both the offensive and defensive lines for the Defenders over the last three seasons. Unlike Smith, he says his decision to play at Penn State was a no-brainer even though he had received interest from other schools, including Bloomsburg.
Fiedler will likely play offensive tackle for the Nittany Lions, which should help to add depth to a young Penn State line.
"Its always been a dream of mine to go there. The opportunity came up and I took it," he said. "They liked what they saw and I showed them the best I could, so it worked out."