Five-Star Kansas OL Draws Eyes from Texas
Everything is bigger in the Lone Star State. But Olathe, Kansas is home to one of the biggest names in recruiting. Standing 6-foot-6, 278-pounds, offensive tackle Braden Smith casts a five-star shadow that has drawn the attention of nearly every major program in the nation. That includes the Texas Longhorns, whose trips to Kansas in search of high school football talent are almost unheard of. In cases of a rare physical specimen like Braden Smith, Mack Brown is okay with making an exception. Olathe South's Jeff Gourley has coached football for 28 years. In that time, he's seen a lot. This is his first look at a 16-year old that bench presses 475 pounds and squats 525. "You've heard the old saying, ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,'" Gourley says, with a thick Midwestern accent. "This is true." Smith is a unique young man, and his parents have taken a somewhat unusual approach to his recruitment. They have done their best to preserve a degree normalcy for their son's high school years. "Braden's mom and dad are very level-headed," Gourley says. "Dave and Jane are just good people. Just with the way it's been handled, like with Braden off limits to interviews, we've set rules and policies for how we handle this or that." Aside from his well-documented skills as an offensive and defensive lineman, he is an accomplished student, and a standout track and field athlete, specializing in the shot put. "Braden has a 3.95 GPA, and that's very important to him," Gourley said. "So is track and field. He came to me and asked if we could shut down his recruitment for two weeks so he could focus on regional track and on finals. No pop-in visits, nothing." The following Monday, Longhorn offensive line coach Stacey Searels reached out to Gourley. As he recounted the phone conversation, he burst out laughing at the point when Searels asked if he could visit Olathe South. Gourley explained, "I told him ‘no.' Coach Searels said, ‘Coach, did I mention this is Texas?" Gourley's response was the capper for what was likely one of the most unusual calls to a Kansas recruit the Longhorn assistant has ever made. "I told him, ‘I don't care where you're from, you aren't seeing Braden this week." Between a few more laughs, Gourley added, "I might be the only guy to ever say ‘no' to Texas!" The best part of the story came earlier this season, when the ‘Horns traveled to Lawrence. "A few weeks back, they were in town to play Kansas," Gourley said. "Coach Searels finally got a chance to come by. When he comes in, he's a pretty big ol' rascal," he said, laughing loudly. "I'm thinking I shouldn't have said ‘no' so fast!" Despite what might sound like a rocky start, Gourley said he and Smith enjoyed finally meeting the Longhorns' assistant face to face. Texas is one of many programs in hot pursuit of the five-star tackle, but no one is sure who is in the lead. "With Braden, It started with Oklahoma," he said. "Then Nebraska, and Stanford. Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas, Alabama, Texas A&M, Michigan…it's crazy." Gourley also noted both Kansas and Missouri have visited and sent plenty of mail. When pressed, he concedes there has been some separation. However, there is no leader. "He does have a list. It had gotten so cloudy, he narrowed it to 15. From there, he has a ‘live 5.' If they aren't in that 15 or 5, we don't make exceptions to see them."
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