"You're going to see an amazing athlete"

Olathe South High School Coach Jeff Gourley talks about what Auburn is getting in five-star offensive lineman Braden Smith.

Olathe, Kan.--Sometimes college football recruiting is something that takes months of months of interaction between coach and player to build a relationship and a comfort level before things fall into place. Other times a kid grows up dreaming of playing for a certain school and the offer is all that stands in the way of making a decision.

However, sometimes a combination of timing and opportunity form to create something that just works. That is the case with Auburn five-star offensive line signee Braden Smith.

Getting early offers from Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and dozens of other colleges early in the recruiting process, Smith began the process of trying to find his home, but couldn't find anything that felt just right for him. All that ended when Auburn came into the picture says Olathe South Coach Jeff Gourley.

What makes the story remarkable is how his interest in the Tigers developed. Building close ties with both TCU and Texas A&M by watching them play, Smith saw something in Auburn thanks to Gourley's help and that opened up a window for Coach Gus Malzahn's program.

A phone call out of the blue from Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes a few weeks later turned slight interest into full-blown fascination and over the course of less than a month he was all Auburn.

"It was a week or two weeks prior to Coach Grimes making contact with me," Gourley says of Smith's first interest in Auburn. "We were joking around because we run the Wing-T and Coach Malzahn's is not that dis-similar.

"We're under center and we're in the pistol so we're a little bit different, but the philosophies are all the same. We were laughing and saying that's where he needed to go. I'm not going to lie to you, Auburn was an afterthought. We visited Alabama and had already told them no thanks that he wasn't interested.

"Auburn had not shown any interest and it wasn't any big deal, but we didn't really watch Auburn up here. The most SEC he watched was Texas A&M because they were an active player and Missouri because they were local. I watched Auburn in the Iron Bowl and then in the SEC Championship against Missouri and then I saw them in the national championship. I told Braden, ‘You already know that offense you ought to just go there.' We kind of laughed about it and said he would be the perfect fit for Auburn, and low and behold about a week later Coach Grimes called. The rest is history as they say."

Braden Smith

A massive player called "Gigantor" by his teammates, Smith is six-foot-six and around 300 pounds already. One of the strongest prospects in the country as well, Gourley says his standout player is more than just strength however because he applies himself to the game each and every day.

"Braden Smith is probably the most intense football player I have ever coached with that type of ability," Gourley notes. "He's a process-oriented kid. He goes step-by-step in everything he does in life from weights to grades to classes.

"All of that stuff is important to him, but he processes one step at a time. When he takes the field he has gone through all of the education part. He studies his opponent and watches the film. He understands the schemes they're going to be seeing.

"We played him both ways here at Olathe South so he had to do it on both sides of the ball. What separates him is that he's a student of the game and he really applies himself to understand what the opponent is going to try to do to him."

No matter what he does in preparation everything always comes back to strength and size for Smith. Bench pressing 515 pounds three reps during his senior season, Smith should have no problems adjusting to the physical nature of the game on the next level. While technique is often a problem area for young offensive linemen making the step to the SEC, Gourley says he believes Smith has the right stuff to make an impact because of his work ethic and love for the game.

"He's an extremely strong young man," the coach notes. "This word is so overused and sometimes it has such a negative connotation that I hesitate to use it, but he's freaky strong. Anybody that can bench press 515 three times and squats over 700 pounds. How strong do you need to be? We don't really test him as far as he can go. We shut him down a little bit.

"His strength is one thing and I have known a lot of strong players that weren't good football players, but his toughness and ability to play the game at a pad level that is lower than most is just uncanny.

"The rap on Division I linemen coming in is you don't know what type of grit they have because they've never had to go up against kids like this. That is in fact the truth. His sophomore year is probably the last time he was challenged and that was mostly by our team in practice.

"I watched him in that Under Armour game and that one son of a gun (D'Shawn Hand) put a head slap on him in one of the one-on-one drills and if you watch real close you see the helmet spin around, but his neck doesn't change positions. It looks really bad, but his head doesn't move. The next thing you see is him replacing his hands back in the guy's chest and it's a thump. He's stoned and he doesn't move. Right then I said that this kid was proving to himself that he can play at this level."

With Greg Robinson leaving Auburn early and expected to be a first round draft choice in the NFL, the Tigers will have plenty of competition for the left tackle spot with Shon Coleman and Patrick Miller just two of the capable bodies for the position. Making an adjustment from playing guard to tackle will take some getting used to for Smith, but Gourley believes he can get it done.

"He doesn't realize how good he can be yet, I don't think anybody does," Gourley says. "The more he plays with the SEC caliber defensive line that Auburn has and that he'll see each week he's just going to grow in confidence and his ability is just going to take off. You're going to see an amazing athlete."

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