The face of the Wyoming football program can’t stop smiling.
Inside one of the upstairs rooms of the Rochelle Athletics Center, quarterback Brett Smith sits on a folding chair under a bright light. Water drips off of his face, smearing the eye black stretched in thick lines underneath each eye.
He’s trying to look intimidating, but he doesn’t know how.
In front of him, a photographer gives him a set of directions.
“Head up,” she says. “Eyes forward. Imagine like you’re in game mode. Are you looking at me?”
His smile slowly vanishes as he replaces it with a cartoonish, exaggerated scowl. He’s wearing shoulder pads and his team’s traditional brown home uniform, but the lower half is quite a bit different.
He sports black shorts, long white socks that reach halfway to the knee and a worn black pair of Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers.
“I wear them around like slippers,” he says with a grin.
This is the relaxed, carefree guy who few football fans see.
The photographer continues to shoot portraits, the camera click-click-clicking away as Smith stares straight ahead, expressionless. Occasionally, she stops to spray his face with water, simulating sweat from a Mountain West football game.
As the beads trickle down from his forehead and rest on the tip of his nose, he closes his eyes and the goofy smile resurfaces.
Believe it or not, this is Wyoming’s quarterback -- the one who prefers to take on larger defenders instead of stepping out of bounds. This is the guy who wants to win so bad it hurts, who silently curses every bad throw or missed read.
This is that guy, but yet it isn’t.
Brett Smith looks puzzled and a little frustrated.
“I can’t be intimidating.”
He could have avoided the contact.
In a rivalry game against South Salem, West Salem High School quarterback Brett Smith scrambled out of the pocket and toward the far pylon. He had the defender beat, so much so that he could have scooted by him into the end zone without ever being touched.
He could have done that, sure. But that wouldn’t have been Brett.
Instead, he decided to send a message. Smith had been in the South Salem school system a few years earlier, so he knew the majority of the guys on the other side of the line. He wanted to leave them with a going-away present, something black, blue and painful for them to remember him.
And so, Smith barreled over the kid, knocking his own helmet halfway off as he scampered over the goal line. The crowd roared, his teammates pumped fists and somewhere in the crowd, his father wasn’t surprised.
“That fire leads him to not go out of bounds,” Kevin Smith said. “He’s going to take a guy on if he’s coming at him, and he did that all the time in high school.”
There are remnants of “that fire” all throughout Brett Smith’s game. You can see it on summer mornings, when he throws extra passes 20 minutes after practice while his teammates drink chocolate milk and head toward the showers.
You can see it in games, when he takes off running to meet with a receiver who just caught a 40-yard touchdown pass.
You can see it in his eyes, a spark that tells you that this isn’t the same kid sporting the Chuck Taylors in an off-day photo shoot.
“Brett kind of has two different personalities,” junior wide receiver Dominic Rufran said. “He’s just so competitive, it’s unbelievable. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve met in my entire life. When it comes to the football field and he makes a mistake or we’re not winning, he has this drive in his eyes.
“He’s just going crazy.”
That’s the side of Brett that most of Wyoming knows. They’ve seen the ruthless competitor, willing to sacrifice anything on a football field for his team and his coaches. Sometimes, that fire gets the best of him, resulting in a forced pass or a mangled high school rival.
But as long as he’s playing football, that fire will never go out. It’s a part of him, something deep inside that constantly pushes him to keep striving for more.
Between the sidelines, a skinny kid from Oregon becomes something greater.
The face of a program.
Kevin Smith didn’t know what was coming, but he should have.
As he walked around a corner in his house last month, his middle son, Brett, jumped out and yelled at him, trying desperately to catch his father off guard.
You could say it’s immature, and you’d probably be right. It’s a classic play in the grade school prank book, right next to whoopee cushions, prank phone calls and the occasional pie in the face.
But away from the football field, that’s Brett Smith.
“He’s as squirrely as all get-out. … He keeps me loose, and when he’s home, it’s definitely entertainment because there’s never a dull moment with him,” Kevin Smith said. “It takes very little to entertain Mr. Brett Smith.”
One of his favorite foods is Dino Nuggets, chicken strips formed in the shape of dinosaurs that can be popped in the oven and 15 minutes later, made extinct. He’s scared of roller coasters, and he loves video games and country music.
Put him in pads, though, and the demeanor changes. The stare hardens and the fire returns.
Put him in pads, and Dr. Jekyll quickly gives way to Mr. Hyde.
“Off the field he might be giggling, but once Brett puts that helmet on, he’s going live,” UW receiver Robert Herron said.
When you look closely, you realize that Brett Smith isn’t two people. He’s a football player and a communications major, a son and a brother. He’s a prankster and an outdoorsman.
He’s all of these things. These are the parts that make the man.
Football, though, brings something out of him. It allows a 205-pound kid with a goofy, nonchalant grin to summon the will to de-cleat a rushing linebacker.
It gives him the courage to step up in the pocket in front of 80,000 booing fans and release a football into a microscopic window.
It takes a guy who prefers a dino nugget to fine cuisine and makes him a leader of men, a captain among Cowboys.
It doesn’t make him a different person, just a different version of himself.
“It switches,” Brett Smith said about his mentality. “This game is my passion. There are pictures of me in a helmet when I was 1-year-old, 2 years old. So it’s something I’ve worked for my entire life, and it’s something that I take very serious.”
Whereas a few minutes earlier, he sneaked behind defensive lineman Eddie Yarbrough and tried to pour a bottle of chocolate milk down his throat, giggling like a madman the whole time. Now, that guy was gone.
The captain and quarterback of the Wyoming Cowboys had replaced him.
“I play this game to be the very best. I don’t play to blend in with the crowd.”