Nineteen quarterbacks were invited to the NFL scouting combine in February. Wyoming’s Brett Smith wasn’t one of them, despite throwing for 3,375 yards and 29 touchdowns and rushing for another 573 yards and four scores. The three-year starter for the Cowboys lacks ideal measurables at 6-foot-2 and 206 pounds, and he doesn’t have the resumé of some of the top quarterbacks in the 2014 NFL draft.
But Smith believes he should be considered in the same company as many of them. He declared for the draft after his junior season, ignoring the advice from some to stay in school another year. Smith is used to going against the grain and proving people wrong after being largely ignored by the bigger schools during high school recruiting. He’s out to prove he can bring his gun-slinging, athletic style to the NFL and his work at the EXOS facility (with NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer mentoring him) and a strong pro day performance in front of 19 NFL teams might help him do that.
Smith took some time to talk to Shutdown Corner about a number of topics, including his combine snub, losing at Wyoming, where he belongs in the draft, cowboy boots, country music and rodeos.
SDC: I like the classical music in lieu of a ringtone on your phone there. Makes you seem quite cultured.
Smith: [laughs] Oh, man. It has been that way since I was a young kid when I first got my phone. I can’t change it.
SDC: So you’re not cultured?
Smith: Absolutely not. I can’t stand it.
SDC: Fair enough. So I know you had family go to University of Oregon, including your father, who played football there. You grew up pretty close to the campus. Were you a little disappointed that the Ducks didn’t show you more recruiting attention?
Smith: I was extremely disappointed. They were about an hour down the road, and I wanted to be the hero who goes to the home-state school and have a successful career at Oregon or Oregon State. But that didn’t happen. As far as the recruiting process, I just wasn’t getting any love. At that point I was just hoping to have a spot anywhere, and thank god Wyoming offered.
SDC: Was there any thought about trying to go somewhere you could stick it to those teams for not recruiting you harder?
Smith: I wasn’t trying to stick it to Oregon, no. Playing at either one would have been a dream.
SDC: Did you go to camps there? Did you visit those schools frequently?
Smith: I had been at the Northwest Elite camp at Oregon State, and I was talking to them up to that point. After that camp, they stopped talking to me.
With Oregon, I went to a bowl game practice, and I met Coach [Chip] Kelly, and I ended up seeing on the Internet that they offered another kid my age. There were a couple of times where I tried to call, but nobody responded.
SDC: Did those two experiences dismay you at all?
I understood it. They offered somebody else at that point. But the Oregon State one was a little more disappointing because they had been on me a lot more than Oregon. They just never really interacted with me after that.
SDC: How, then, did you end up at Wyoming? It had to be a little bit of an adjustment there.
Smith: It was a little bit of a whirlwind, but I was very focused. I was not only not really recruited by the home-state schools, but some of the Washington schools I thought I could have a shot at didn’t really call either. They were offering other quarterbacks. The other Pac-12 schools called and said I probably should consider D-II or D-III, so it was definitely tough. Toward the end of [football season] I started trying to find a school — any school — at the D-I level where I could prove to myself that I could still do it.
I actually ended up graduating high school early, so that was definitely different. All my friends were still in high school, and here I am in college in the state of Wyoming. It gets freezing here. It was like negative-48 with the wind chill one day after I got there. It was a climate shock for me.
SDC: You won the starting job your freshman year, and you end up completing 50 more passes than you even attempted your senior year of high school. What was that like to get thrown in so quickly?
Smith: I felt great. I was motivated and focused, and I believed I was capable of doing those things. We had a good year, won eight games and went to a bowl game, and I was extremely optimistic just because I had been told I wasn’t even supposed to be able to play on the D-I level. You let that doubt creep in. Are they right?
I just had to believe that I could do it, and I stepped into a situations where I had a great cast and teammates that were right there with me, even as a freshman quarterback. It was a special year for us. We did a great job and exceeded some expectations.
SDC: Your numbers went up the next two seasons, and you score a bunch of points, but the team suffers through two tough seasons. Overall, what happened? What prevented you from building on 2011 these past two seasons?
Smith: You know, I can’t really put my finger on it. It was hard. Just a big disappointment, especially this past season. We started off strong and … we had a tough schedule. Fresno State, Derek Carr. Nebraska. We lost a couple of heartbreakers. Boise State had a great defense. Utah State was a really good team. We played them all almost back to back. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. We just couldn’t string together an entire game of executing well. I wish I could give you a better answer than that. I just can’t put my finger on it.
SDC: What was the experience of watching Coach Christiansen get fired? He was the guy who put a lot of trust in you.
Smith: I was just wondering who the next coach would be. That’s the worst position for a quarterback, because you’re in an offense that you had been in for the last three years and then you don’t know the direction of the program or whatever.
I was actually looking forward to a new coach when I found out we had one. Coach [Craig] Bohl was a great guy. Even though Coach Christiansen was the one who recruited me, I saw [assistant] coaches roll through there frequently. It’s just a part of the business.
From the outside perspective, people say, ‘It must be such a bad deal.’ But you see coaches get fired all the time. It’s just something you get used to, and you have to continue to move on. I was just trying to be there for my team and try to talk guys out of making rash decisions about transferring or whatever. Just wait it out, be smart.
SDC: And yet a few weeks after Coach Craig Bohl from North Dakota State was hired to replace him, you declared for the draft.
Smith: Yeah, wow. Like I said, my head coach got fired, so … it was going to be a different environment regardless. The prior staff was wiped out as well. But it wasn’t so much that; it was more so the fact of wondering what it was going to be like at the next level.
SDC: Did you look at the other quarterbacks who were eligible and who were declaring?
Smith: Yeah, looking at it, I knew there were going to be some good players. Researching it, there are going to be seven or eight quarterbacks taken in the first five rounds. So what I was thinking was, I love my teammates, I really love the new coaching staff, but my dream — my absolute No. 1 dream — is to be an NFL quarterback. And this year, it just made the most sense to try to pursue that.
My goal is to try to crack the top eight [quarterbacks] and get drafted in the first five rounds. So that’s what I was doing. I think it was the right decision. I am just hoping a team agrees and gives me the right opportunity.
SDC: You were not happy to not be invited to the NFL combine. Did you watch it on TV at all? And if so, what was your reaction to some of the top guys being invited but not even throwing or doing all the drills?
Smith: Well, to answer your question, I didn’t watch much — I watched like maybe 15 minutes of it. I had to turn off the TV. I had to leave because it was so … I just couldn’t watch it. It just … it hurt a little bit. I just focused on myself and chose not to watch it. After 10 minutes or whatever, I was done.
About guys who don’t do the whole thing, yeah, I don’t really agree with that. Look, I know I am not going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. But at the same time, even if I was, I would go to the combine and do everything. I would approach it as, I am not afraid of hurting my stock. I would want to do it to raise my stock.
All the top quarterbacks are there. I’d want to see how I stacked up against all of them. Every single throw and drill. That’s just how I approach it. When I saw guys not doing everything, I felt like the spots should have been given to guys who are going to do everything. Otherwise, it’s pointless to do it.
SDC: If you had one game in your career to show scouts and say, “This is Brett Smith,” which one would it be?
Smith: I would probably say the Air Force game this past year. That was a big rivalry game for us, always has, and every year we played them, there was a lot of chirping going on. [laughs] A lot of penalties in those games. It’s an intense game.
It was just an overall great game [a 56-23 Wyoming win] by us. By everybody. The offense came together like we never had before. It was just great execution and planning. The receivers and I watched tape and knew every single thing that they were going to do. Every third down, every short-yardage [situation] we knew what they were going to do. We had their first- and second-down schemes read perfectly, too. We were just so ready for that game and executed beautifully.
SDC: That just happened to be the game I watched right before you called. There weren’t too many passes that hit the ground that day. [Smith was 35-of-41 passing for 373 yards and four touchdowns passing, and he also rushed 16 times for 138 yards and a score.]
Smith: The offensive line didn’t allow hardly any pressure. We were able to hit them with the run and pass. I was able to run it a little bit, and keep them guessing. We were moving the chains all day. It was overall the best game we played while I was there.
SDC: You had a big pro day performance. Did that make up for the combine letdown?
Smith: Even when I was watching the combine, I felt I could do it. I just want a team to know that despite [not getting invited to the combine] and all the talk of me not being considered a top-round pick, I just believe that I can play quarterback at the next level and that one day I will put myself in a position to play and start.
That’s why I was excited to show my competitiveness on every drill. I didn’t even know what the 60-yard shuttle was. I hadn’t even have heard of that, but I did that as well. I did every single drill just to show them that I am ready to compete in everything.
I thought I tested well. I thought everyone at the pro day tested well. We threw it well. Overall it was a great day.
SDC: You worked with Jordan Palmer, Carson’s brother, leading up to the pro day. Did he give you any advice about how to approach it?
Smith: He’s the best. He’s seriously the best. We’ve talked a lot. He said, ‘Always stay relaxed. You have to remember that this is your day.’ I was pretty nervous before pro day. But when he said those words, and he reminded me what we had been working up to with it — three months of preparing for that day — I had a new perspective on that. It was my day. I had been prepared. I was ready. I calmed down a lot after we talked.
It can be a little intimidating seeing a bunch of scouts just standing around watching you. But I had run through this workout for three months, and he [Palmer] got me ready. He also made me relax and just run through it again. That was huge.
SDC: OK, are you ready for a few fun ones, rapid fire?
SDC: You played at Texas and at Nebraska, two old rivals. So whose fans are louder?
SDC: Who was the biggest freak athlete you worked out with at EXOS? Who made your eyes pop out of your head there?
Smith: Geez, I probably would say … probably [Penn State guard] John Urschel.
SDC: Interesting you picked an offensive guard.
Smith: He benched a lot. And for how big a guy he was, he moves really well. Also, I probably would say [Saginaw Valley State wide receiver] Jeff Janis. He’s a specimen. He’s the most jacked guy I ever met.
SDC: Dude is like 6-3, 215 and runs a 4.4. I mean, that’s pretty good.
Smith: Yeah, Janis is a freak. I never have seen a guy squat as much as he did. I forgot how much he put up, but it was over [600 pounds].
SDC: What’s your best squat one-rep max?
Smith: I think 440 was my best.
SDC: Testing your football trivia knowledge: Who was the only Wyoming quarterback to get drafted?
Smith: Casey Bramlett, I believe.
SDC: Well done. Who was the best or most dominant defensive player you faced the past in college?
Smith: I’d probably see Tank Carder from TCU. He knocked me out of the game [in 2011], and I don’t come out of games unless I can’t get up. So that should tell you how hard he hit me. I thought [Texas safety] Kenny Vaccaro overall was a really good player. And I thought [defensive end] Demarcus Lawrence from Boise State was really good as well.
SDC: What video game are you unstoppable at?
Smith: NHL 14. Without even a question.
SDC: What team do you play with?
Smith: Boston Bruins.
SDC: God bless you. You’re being interviewed right now by a Bruins fan. Did you know that ahead of time?
Smith: [laughs] No, I had no idea. But that’s funny. I am a big hockey fan. Hockey might even be my favorite sport. Even my dad plays it. Zdeno Chara is a monster on that game, so I use him a lot.
SDC: Twitter, Instagram or Facebook?
Smith: I have Twitter. I don’t have Facebook. I hate Facebook. I don’t even like Twitter that much.
SDC: Pro tip: Don’t get started. OK, so we are going to go through every Wyoming stereotype we can right now. Do you like country music?
Smith: [laughs] I do. Country music is probably my favorite. I grew up listening to country and rock.
SDC: What’s the difference between good and bad country music?
Smith: I’d probably say the good is the 1980s and ’90s stuff. George Strait is my all-time favorite. Anything by him. I saw him while I was in California. Merle Haggard, that’s the good stuff.
SDC: Where does Blake Shelton fall on that line? I have no idea about this stuff.
Smith: I actually like Blake Shelton a lot. Dierks Bentley I like a lot, Easton Corbin I just saw. Those guys are all good. It’s just the modern-day stuff that sounds like pop that I can’t listen to.
SDC: Do you wear a cowboy hat?
Smith: No. I can’t pull it off. I do wear cowboy boots, though.
SDC: Ever been on a mechanical bull?
Smith: I have! [laughs] It was a lot harder than I thought. One of the movies I grew up watching a lot with my dad was “Urban Cowboy,” with John Travolta. He makes it look easy. I got on there and couldn’t even stay up. My buddy [Wyoming defensive tackle] Chase Appleby and I tried it, and I stayed up longer than he did.
SDC: Anything cliché I forget? Ever been to a rodeo?
Smith: Yeah, so Chase and I were in Dallas to see Easton Corbin and we went to Billy Bob’s, and they had an indoor rodeo there. And every year in Oregon about 10-15 minutes from my house, there’s the St. Paul Rodeo in town. I always go to that. And there were a few in Wyoming I went to.
SDC: Do you hunt or fish?
Smith: Big fisherman when I get the chance. There are some good places near home, like John Day, Oregon. The John Day River is great. I also own a shotgun, so one of these days I’ll get around to shooting some things.
SDC: You need to get drafted by the Chicago Bears. Not only would you be working with Marc Trestman, the quarterback whisperer, but you also could go hunting and fishing with Jared Allen.
Smith: Yeah, I have seen videos of him shooting things with a bow and arrow. That’s crazy.
SDC: What kind of car do you drive?
Smith: My F-250 isn’t running currently. Right now, it’s not in good shape. We got it for about two grand. It’s on its last legs right now. Now I am driving a Nissan Sentra.
SDC: Where’s the one place you want to visit the most?
Smith: I think somewhere tropical, like Hawaii or the Caribbean. I have never been anywhere like that. Maybe the Bahamas.
SDC: Do you have a secret talent? Any cool party tricks you bust out in front of the ladies?
Smith: I am big into music, as we were talking about. I sing a little. I am not great, but I am OK. I also swing dance. Two step. When I was in Dallas, two-stepping and swing dancing basically the whole time.
SDC: I am going straight to Youtube to find video of you singing and/or dancing.
Smith: You won’t find it. [laughs] I am smart enough not to be taped by anyone.
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