MORGANTOWN, W.Va – Head coach Neal Brown and sophomore receiver Reese Smith have plenty of history.
They hail from Danville, Kentucky, and played for the same coach at Boyle County.
During his high school career, Brown set numerous receiving records. When it was Smith’s turn to put on the BCHS uniform, he took ownership of those records, breaking just about every one Brown set.
“My dad would always go to the high school games and watch Coach Brown play,” Smith said. “It was one of those things where everyone knew who the ball was going to but couldn’t stop him.”
Smith “likes to think” he has those qualities as a receiver. After all, his high school career did turn out a lot like Brown’s and they both went on to play at the Division I level.
Brown, the head coach at Troy at the time, started recruiting Smith as a sophomore. When he took over the WVU program, the offer to play for him was still open. Smith always respected Brown for staying in touch with him and wanting him on his roster.
It was that relationship fostered many years ago that allowed Smith to feel comfortable enough to approach his head coach for a difficult conversation.
“Going into the off season, I knew I had to improve on a lot of things. I knew where I stood. Coach Brown and I had one of those sit-downs, a heart-to -heart,” Smith said.
“He is going to tell me straight up just because he’s recruited me ever since I was a sophomore in high school. We had one of those conversations where it was ‘coach, I need to play more. I’m playing a lot of special teams but I want to play a lot more offense.’ He told me what I had to do and was straightforward.”
Coach Joseph, the strength and conditioning coach, was in that meeting as well to offer his insight into what Smith needed to do in order to take that next step.
Smith wasn’t naive to the fact he needed to get better in several areas, so he took that advice and attacked winter workouts with that conversation lingering in the back of his mind as fuel.
Getting faster and stronger was the goal physically. He built the foundation during the winter but was unfortunately unable to build upon it in the spring due to a hamstring injury.
“It knocked me down. I was really frustrated at first, but I’m not one of those guys who is going to feel sorry for myself and lay down so I went back to work,” Smith said. “The next day I started getting treatment two or three times a day. It was a day-by-day feel. I eased back into it and was fortunate enough to play in the spring game.”
This wasn’t his first experience with a hamstring injury. He pulled the same one in high school and didn’t have any problems with it until this spring. He is healed and has no restrictions, but does make sure to receive the proper “maintenance” for the injury daily.
Getting faster and stronger was a necessity, but it wasn’t the only thing Smith was working on. If he wanted to achieve his goal of increased playing time on offense, he knew he had to be a smarter player who didn’t overthink things, which included how he saw his role on special teams.
“I had no idea how important special teams was before I got here. I didn’t play on them in high school, I just did punt return. Our high school coach really believed if you played both sides of the ball, you weren’t playing special teams, you know,” Smith. “So, when I got here, it was kind of a slap in the face a little bit. Once I got playing, I loved special teams. Playing special teams kept me in the game and kept me focused so I really love it.”
The change in physicality and mentality is paying off for Smith so far this fall as Brown has tabbed him the most consistent receiver during fall camp.