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August 10, 2011His eyes trail off to the upper deck at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in recalling the play that ended his 2010 season so unexpectedly and the rehabilitation process required to finally run again. But ask Kansas State wide receiver Brodrick Smith whether he missed some voluntary workouts this summer and his eyes lock-in and grow, well, sad. "If I did miss," he said, "it was for him."
Fall practice is an opportunity to begin anew and for the Wildcats, who come off a 7-6 season and the program's first bowl appearance in four years, it was exactly that. K-State players, coming off just their second practice, met with reporters last Friday at the team's media day event.
When reporters last spoke with Smith, he stood inside the postgame interview room at the Vanier Football Complex following a 17-13 win over Central Florida in the famous "cloud" game on Sept. 25. Although Smith had just two catches for 12 yards in the outing, the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder redshirt sophomore was all smiles as the Wildcats improved to 4-0 for the season.
"We've got Nebraska next," he said, "and we've got to get on it really big."
Didn't happen. And aside from suffering a humiliating 48-13 loss to No. 6 Nebraska during a nationally-televised Thursday night matchup in Manhattan, the Wildcats incurred another blow when Smith went down with a broken left leg with 10 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in a contest that had already been decided.
"When he didn't get up, I kind of felt it was bad," wide receivers coach Michael Smith (no relation) said. "He's a tough kid and he doesn't like laying down on the field. When he didn't get up, I was like, 'Dang.'"
Brodrick Smith still recalls the third-and-goal play at the 3-yard line that ended his season. It was a running play. Daniel Thomas was darting to his left. And then?
"The linebacker fell off of DT and onto my leg," Smith said. "Snapped my fibula and tore all the ligaments in my ankle."
Doctors placed an inflatable cast on the leg and transported him into the locker room. It was a horrible way to go out for Smith and not only because, at the time, he was the team's top pass catcher with 14 catches for 191 yards and three touchdowns. He simply wanted to play football again having sat out the 2009 season after transferring from Minnesota.
"It was tough going home after that game and realizing, 'Man, this season is gone, too,'" Smith said. "It gave me more attitude to work harder, though, to get out there and perform. You don't know what you have until it's taken away. It really hit me as soon as I got hurt."
Recovering from a broken leg? This was something new. Two surgeries, including one that following Monday as the Wildcats prepared to play Kansas. Then there was the six-month rehabilitation process and the "grinding and grinding," as he calls it, just to be able to run again.
"There were days I was like, 'Is my leg ever going to be the same?'" Smith said.
Smith achieved a small victory for himself when he caught five passes for 42 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
Although the injury and recovery was all new to Smith, his heart also still remained in Garden City, his hometown, with his three-year-old son, Blake, whom he would travel to visit during the summer.
Blake is fighting for a victory of his own. The battle, of course, is nothing new to his father.
"He's doing good," Smith said. "I actually spent a whole week with him before camp. He's getting really big."
"He actually has a case of cerebral palsy," he said. "He's trying to overcome that right now."
Doctors diagnosed Blake with the disorder when he was born.
"He had a stroke in the womb," Smith said, his voice trailing to a whisper.
The Mayo Clinic website defines cerebral palsy as "a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by injury or abnormal development in the immature brain, most often before birth."
Smith says his son visits a Denver-area hospital for treatment.
"The right side of his body isn't growing," Smith said, "so he has to get shots to make that side of his body grow."
So Smith has plenty to play for in 2011.
"Definitely," he said. "Every day I come out here for him. He's doing really good. It's not a bad case at all. It's real minor. He handles it fine."
Michael Smith said that he understood the situation.
"We talk about it, man," Smith said. "That's something I couldn't imagine. I've got four kids and I've been blessed that they're all healthy. But I couldn't imagine as a 21-year-old guy going through something like that.
"I just hope he uses it as motivation and goes from there."
When he wasn't visiting Blake, Smith said his son was able to visit him in Manhattan during the summer.
For the first time in the interview, Smith's eyes light up.
"He was up here a lot this summer," he said. "It was a good time. I always find time to spend with him. Of course, him and his mom know that I'm out here getting my education and playing football."
Asked about Smith's health status and whether he had participated in voluntary workouts during the Big 12 media day in Dallas on July 26, junior quarterback Collin Klein replied only, "He's really talented and he's healthy now. Hopefully, he'll have a good camp. He's been there.
"He had a few family things but he's been there."
Sometimes, there's more to the story.
Meanwhile, Michael Smith continues to push Brodrick Smith as the Wildcats grow closer to the Sept. 3 opener against Eastern Kentucky.
"He's anxious to get back," Michael Smith said. "He went through spring and still had a little gimp in his giddy-up but he's feeling good now. He feels refreshed, feels like his legs are back under him. I'm trying to get him back to where he was, if not a little bit better than when he came in.
"The thing I've always challenged Brodrick with is being hungry. I'm starting to see that come back. That's where we are right now, just getting that hunger back, which I believe he's doing, and we'll go from there. He's a kid that knows what's going on."
Brodrick Smith carries no doubts about his comeback.
"I'm just as hungry if not even hungrier this season," he said. "I want to go out there and help this team out a lot and be a good teammate. It starts here in camp."
It'll continue in the fall with a young child cheering for his father.