- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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Linebacker Brandon Smith (Lewisburg, Pa./Lewisburg) carried a half-dozen Bible verses, written on pieces of paper, in his jacket pockets over the weekend.
Whenever he'd wonder about his future or where he was supposed to be, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a verse. After reflecting about his college decision and re-reading those verses, he finally found peace Saturday morning.
He called up Penn State assistant Ron Vanderlinden to let him know he no longer needed to wait. Smith wanted to accept the Nittany Lions' walk-on offer, choosing to enroll at PSU over Penn.
"Penn State was the right place for me," Smith said Monday night. "A big reason I decided to go with Penn State was my relationship with the coaches -- and they're very Christian men. I had a lot of conversations about God and church, and that's something I really didn't find at other schools."
Smith drove over to his father's office Saturday in old clothes to prepare to paint his office a cream-colored shade of white. Before he dipped his brushes into the paint cans, he decided to call his recruiting coach, Mac McWhorter. When he didn't answer, he called Vanderlinden.
The two chatted about their days, and Vanderlinden explained that McWhorter was working out in the gym. Vanderlinden asked Smith about his mission trip, but the middle linebacker soon told the assistant coach there was another reason for his call.
"I told him I wanted to become a Nittany Lion," Smith said. "And Coach Vanderlinden was like, 'You got me pumped up, man!'
"And then Coach McWhorter walked by, and he handed the phone off to him. And he said, 'Welcome to Penn State! So, are you thinking about that opening kickoff next year about Syracuse and making that tackle?' It was pretty exciting."
Smith grew up about a 75-minute drive from campus and attended his first Penn State game when he was about one year old. He dreamed about running out of Beaver Stadium's south tunnel since he started playing football, and he's been a fan of the Blue and White for a long time.
He was tempted to maybe play at Penn or Princeton because of the Ivy League education, but he couldn't turn down the chance to run out onto a field surrounded by 100,000 screaming fans. He felt just as important as the scholarship players, he said -- he felt wanted. And his girlfriend wrote him 200 Bible verses, one for each day until signing day, to help Smith along.
So, come Saturday morning, the linebacker said he had no more misgivings. He felt he was leaning toward Penn State for awhile, and he decided to finally commit.
"There was no question," he said. "I felt I was supposed to go to Penn State.
"The bottom line is I'm going to have to come in and work hard, so I've just been thinking that I'll keep training and working hard and hopefully I'll get a spot on special teams next year and work as far into the lineup as I can. I'm excited for the opportunity."
15dMitch Sherman and Brian Bennett