When Braden Smith entered the NFL draft as a 6-foot-6, 315-pound mauler, his strength was evident. But the true tale starts years before that.
As a freshman at Olathe South High School, the now Indianapolis Colts’ starting right tackle checked in at the same height, but with a gaudy 270-pound frame.
I repeat, as a freshman in high school.
Yeah, it simply was that unbelievable.
But that body transformation didn’t just happen overnight. Smith’s work ethic and drive have propelled him into this powerfully talented offensive lineman.
“I’ve told kids all along, I’ve even told my children as they were growing up: ‘What separates the good ones from the great ones is your work ethic,’” Gourley said. “‘You can have all the talent in the world, and you can be good, but if you have all the talent in the world and you work hard, you’re going to be great.’ Well, Braden is great.”
Smith spent the normal hours lifting during school and/or football workouts, then he would go home and spend a few more hours working out with his family.
Gourley estimates Smith spent about five hours a day lifting weights, growing muscle and developing his body.
“This is a kid who’s already bigger and stronger than everybody that he’ll ever play against in high school,” Gourley said. “He could see the future, he could see things.”
Smith took that work ethic and transformed himself into a top-notch offensive lineman for Auburn before being selected in the second round by the Colts in 2018.
He was solid as a rookie, but Smith kicked it up another notch in 2019. Still, people might not realize how adept this guy is considering the bevy of talent on that O-line.
“Braden is as good as it gets,” Gourley said. “He is being overshadowed from what I can tell because of (Quenton Nelson) being drafted a little higher than him. He’s got a magnanimous personality, he’s out there, he talks. Braden is very quiet and is a very unassuming kid, he always has been. He was as good as anyone will ever get as an offensive lineman, but he would never tell you that.”
And that’s just the type of person Smith is. He doesn’t like the attention, he doesn’t want it at all.
Gourley recalls a story from Smith’s sophomore year. Smith bench pressed 515 pounds three times.
Yes, you read that right.
Gourley recorded it on video. And in an effort to show his school principal, Gourley tried to email the video. Unfortunately, it was too big. So a friend suggested he upload it to YouTube. At the time, Gourley didn’t exactly grasp how that worked and innocently posted it to YouTube. Next thing you know, it’s gone viral.
“In turn, the YouTube haters came out of the woodwork,” Gourley said. “Everybody was bashing saying, ‘It’s fake.’ I felt so bad because Braden wasn’t seeking any attention, he wasn’t looking for publicity. He was a victim of me passing this along to my principal.”
Smith was working for himself, to make himself better, not to start a hype train.
And after all that — two years later — Smith worked his way up to 545 pounds on the bench press. But that video is never going to hit the internet.
And that exemplifies who Smith is on and off the field.
Gourley describes Smith as a quiet, respectful kid who works hard and listens more than he talks when he’s around adults.
“I’ve always had a saying, ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason — you should listen twice as much as you talk,’” Gourley said. “He abides by that to the letter. He listens and then does.”
Smith clearly has his values in line. He understands what it takes on the field to succeed — which he has — but his life is more than that.
He’s got a soft side if you will.
“We were on a recruiting trip to Alabama, and he was kind enough to invite me to go along,” Gourley said. “So we’re driving down, and he’s talking to his mom explaining how she needs to take care of the pumpkins. That’s his baby. He’s got a little pumpkin patch in their backyard.”
It’s pretty wholesome. Gourley said Smith loved horticulture in high school and that seems to have carried on.
And that’s just it. The more you peel back the layers, the more eye-opening Smith’s life is. Smith comes from a great family, he has a fantastic relationship with his wife and he understands values.
“He’s really good at football and he knows that, but he’s such a well-balanced young person,” Gourley said. “If football were to end, he’d be fine, he would be successful at whatever he chooses to do. Nowadays, we see so many people with all their eggs are in one basket. That’s not Braden. I think he’s been smart enough to understand to keep an even keel and make sure that other parts of his life are important.”