IOWA CITY — Brandon Smith misses some creature comforts of home.
Sonic doesn’t have a restaurant in the area, and that stinks. There is no Zaxby’s, no Waffle House.
It seemed to make his day Tuesday when he was informed there is a Five Guys around. It’s just a short trip up the road in Cedar Rapids, near Lindale Mall, he was told.
“Gonna have to go,” he said. “Might go Thursday.”
Other than some of his favorite food haunts, the Iowa wide receiver has adjusted just fine to his new environs. Not really so new anymore since he’s a sophomore.
Smith is from Lake Cormorant, Miss., an unincorporated area in the extreme northwest part of the state, about 20 miles from Memphis, Tenn. It’s the road less traveled, which is how the emerging talent ended up in the Big Ten Conference instead of the SEC.
The story goes that Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell was visiting his mother in nearby Olive Branch, Miss., a couple of summers ago and asked around about any potential recruits. He was tipped off about Smith, an under-the-radar guy who was 6-foot-3, could run and jump.
He came from good athletics lineage, considering his father, Roy, ran track at Mississippi State and his mom, Tyjauna, at Mississippi. His sister, Brianna, is a track and field athlete at MSU, too.
Bell convinced Smith to take a visit to Iowa, and he obliged. He enjoyed it, liked that the Hawkeyes had a need at receiver and that he could potentially get some playing time right away.
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Following word of his commitment, some SEC schools and at least one other Big Ten school began recruiting him. But Smith stayed firm with Iowa.
“Overall, I just took it as a business decision,” he said. “Ole Miss was my dream school to go to, but Iowa was just a better fit for me.”
Smith played some last season as a true freshman and has 18 catches this season, including that gorgeous one-handed touchdown snag two weeks ago against Maryland, in which his other arm was being held by a defensive back. He had four catches for 42 yards last week at Penn State.
The shear athletic ability and large hands always have been there. His comfort level and confidence continue to grow.
“The more reps I get, the more plays, the more catches I get, I feel like I’m getting targeted a little bit more,” Smith said. “So it feels good to be a bigger part of the offense.”
“You can see him playing better now, including Saturday,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “I thought he did some really good things again this past Saturday. He’s using his attributes ... the things that his strengths (are) playing toward a little bit, which is always a good sign. He’s playing with more confidence, and I think those things a lot of times do dovetail.”
Ferentz said Smith has a great personality, is a solid student and hard worker. He’s softer spoken in interviews, not exactly comfortable, it appears, to talk much about himself.
Most of his words are about the team.
But he did speak about the adjustment he has had to make moving from the South to the Midwest. As you’d imagine, weather was one of the first things he brought up.
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“It’s just a lot calmer and quieter here. It’s like a cool state to just relax in,” Smith said. “(But) last winter was terrible for me. I’d be riding around on my moped with a thick jacket on, a thick coat. Everybody else would be wearing a light jacket. I’d be like ‘You’re not cold?’”
At first, he said, the folks back home thought he had committed to Southern Mississippi, which has a Golden Eagle logo that looks similar to Iowa’s Hawkeye. When he explained to them that, no, he was going to the Big Ten, they thought he was crazy.
All those naysayers want Hawkeye gear from him now.
“I had an opportunity to come here, to play and contribute, so that was the only thing I was focused on,” Smith said.
“Those same people who were getting on me about coming to Iowa have turned into Iowa fans now. Everybody asks me for gear, telling me ‘Hey, you’re doing a good job,’ watching my games and stuff. That’s nice.”
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