Auburn’s trip to Missouri Saturday for an SEC showdown won’t be the first time senior right guard Braden Smith returned to the region for a game.
But the tussle between opposing squads of Tigers, which kicks off a 6:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Columbia on ESPNU, will be the first time his family and friends actually get to see him play.
“That’s definitely going to be exciting, because I remember my freshman year we went to K-State and that was the only game I never played in,” said Smith, an Olathe South graduate and Auburn’s preseason second-team All-American starting right guard. “So, none of my family or friends ever got to really see me play in an Auburn jersey close to home.
“They’ve seen it on TV, but I don’t know if many of them have been able to see it in person. Being able to go to Missouri this year and play in front of a home crowd will be a really cool experience.”
During his appearance at SEC Media Days, Smith said he’d been inundated with ticket requests already by mid-July and said this week he’s had to work out trades with teammates to accommodate 17 tickets requests from family and friends.
“I’ve got to do that way in advance, but luckily not too many people live near Missouri on my team,” Smith said. “This will probably the most family and friends that ever got to come to a game ever, so that will definitely be kind of cool.”
Smith is one of the top offensive line prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft. He would have been one of the top prospects last spring, if he’d left school early.
Instead, Smith, an All-SEC first-team performer and second-team All-American last season at right guard, plans to graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.
He hopes to get into physical therapy after presumably a long and lucrative professional football career.
Smith entered training camp as Auburn’s left tackle, but sophomore Prince Tega Wanogho made steady progress early in camp.
“Midway through camp, they felt comfortable that he could take over that spot, so they shuffled me back into guard,” Smith said.
He didn’t mind the change, especially because he’s already flourished at the position.
“I’ll do whatever,” Smith said. “Any position is fine with me as long as it’s on the field, you know.”
That’s the key. He can’t wait to get on the field with so many of his family and friends in the stands as he puts in a shift on Faurot Field.
“The next closest game we have is Arkansas, which is 4 hours from home, so the proximity makes it special,” Smith said. “Hopefully, I’ll play a solid game and dominate. A few pancakes would be a positive.”
At one time, there was a chance Smith might have landed at Mizzou, which adds another layer of intrigue to the homecoming.
“They were my first offer and I definitely considered it, but other options outweighed (going to Mizzou),” Smith said. “I’ll try to treat it like any other game. It’s obviously a little special, of course, but at the end of the day it’s just another team on the schedule and we’ve got to handle business.”
Auburn beat Mercer 24-10 last week despite five turnovers, so Smith said execution has been a major point of emphasis during practice this week and he expects MU — coming off back-to-back disappointing showings against South Carolina and Purdue — will be pumped for the game.
“They’re going to be fired up to play us,” Smith said. “It’s an SEC game, so I know they’ll be ready to go.”