Although he appeared in 11 of 13 games during the 2006 season, Smith didn't quite break into the offense until the final four games of the year. The Bakersfield, Calif., product submitted a tremendous late-season performance in his first career collegiate start, a blowout win over Washington State, totaling 102 yards on only three receptions against the Cougars, making him the first Sun Devil freshman since Shaun McDonald in 2000 to surpass 100 receiving yards in a game, while his 62-yard touchdown catch in that game was the longest completed pass play on the year for the Devils.
Smith would again start at wide receiver in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl against Hawaii in late December, catching a 37-yard touchdown pass, giving ASU fans a taste of his talents and hope that his deep speed and big-play ability would be often utilized for years to come, as comparisons to Sun Devil great Derek Hagan began to surround the highly gifted youngster with a lethal combination of size, speed and raw athleticism.
As the team began to prepare for the 2007 season, Smith would continue to impress as one of the shining stars of the following spring, however as fall camp arrived he would soon fall victim to the injury plague which prevented him from seeing the field in 2007. The rollercoaster that seemed headed full speed toward the end zone took a sharp detour for Smith, but a year later as he looks to regain his form and his spot on the depth chart, he insists that he has never lost faith.
"When I got hurt, the coaches and the players kept me motivated," reflects Smith. "They never had their eye off me, they told me to stay confident and that I had the talent and to keep working hard. It kept me focused, kept me learning the plays and kept me working hard in the weight room. Everyone was in it with me."
The undeniable athleticism and tremendous football potential Smith has always possessed since arriving to Tempe has continued to be nurtured by Sun Devil coaches as well as Smith's wide receiver brethren.
"We (ASU's receivers) are so close and are always there to lift each other up," says Smith. "We're out there together as a group working as one and we're always working toward the best interest of the group as a whole and what will help the team the most."
As time passed, frustration began to set in with Smith as he watched from the sidelines as the Sun Devils earned a split of the Pac-10 Championship and his position-mates such as Michael Jones, Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams gained recognition as one of the conference's best groups of receivers, with Smith being unable to contribute and establish notoriety among the bunch.
"I almost felt like I was letting the team down because I had to sit out (in 2007) and not compete," confesses Smith. "This year, I just want to be out there and help the team. I've got the mental part down and I'm finally healthy so I just have to go out there and perform."
When any athlete succumbs to prolonged injuries it can certainly affect his psyche and confidence, but luckily for Smith his relationship with his position coach and an accomplished teammate have helped keep Smith focused on achieving his full potential on the field.
"My relationship with (wide receivers) Coach Yarber is very good; he's so confident in me," admits Smith. "It's good to have a coach like that around, he's always smiling and he's always there for you. He's a great coach and he's also like a friend if you need him. He's there for us all-around, anything we need - he's there."
"Chris McGaha has also always been there when I was injured. He was always talking to me, helping me keep my head up and my confidence up. He helped teach me things in the spring; every route I ran, he'd tell me what I was doing well and what I could do better."
With time left in his collegiate career beginning to run slim, Smith knows full well that the 2008 season is likely to provide one of few remaining opportunities for him to get back on track and establish himself as a reputable Pac-10 receiving target. With fall camp recently underway, Smith has gone about his usual business of being one of the eye-catching highlight makers of virtually every practice session.
The real test, however, will come in less than one month when the lights shine down on Sun Devil Stadium and hopefully, the spark is re-lit on Brandon Smith's playing career.
"I only have two years left in my ASU career to help achieve my dreams," declares Smith. "I want to be able to show my skills off this year and also just be there for my team when I'm needed and when the coaches need me to handle a big play. Also, if other players just need someone to talk about their personal life, I'll be there so it can help them on the field. I just want to be there for the team so we can have an exceptional season."
Joe Healey is a 2006 graduate of Arizona State University and a guest contributor to Devils Digest. He is also a feature writer each month in Maroon and Gold Illustrated and has contributed to ASU media guides, press releases and other official athletic publications. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.