UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - If Andrea Smith had a dollar for every time someone asked her how her husband could transform into a fierce and ferocious competitor on Saturday's in the fall, she'd likely be rich.
Her husband of course, is 6-foot, fifth-year senior linebacker Brandon Smith.
"We've been together for seven years and I've honestly never seen him actually angry," Andrea said. "For example, his barber, they are all so shocked when he tells them that he plays football because he seems like the kindest, most gentle person. I guess people have a hard time imagining that he isn't like that on the football field, which is funny."
As Winfield, Pennsylvania natives, both Brandon and Andrea grew up fewer than 80 miles from University Park. A standout linebacker at Lewisburg High School, Brandon always had his mind set on Penn State.
"I always dreamed of coming here and I never really thought that would happen," Brandon said.
While accumulating college football offers, Smith was eventually recruited as a preferred walk-on at Penn State, which made his decision to turn down Ivy League scholarship opportunities, an easy one in pursuit of his lifelong dream.
"I always knew he wanted to go to Penn State," Andrea said. "When he was trying to decide, I think everyone in his family knew that was where he wanted to go. When he told me, I wasn't super shocked, but I guess I was more excited because you realize this is a dream, and he had the opportunity to pursue that."
While deliberating, Brandon knew that choosing Penn State wouldn't be the easiest path, but through personal prayer he found there was simply something about the challenge that was drawing him to Happy Valley.
"I think ultimately I just looked at it and I didn't want to look back and say that I didn't try it or think to myself, could I have done that or not," Brandon said. "Instead, I decided to go for it and find out."
In what will soon the end of a five-year career at Penn State, there's a lot he has accomplished along the way, most recently being named to the Allstate AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) Good Works Team.
"I don't think I would have been challenged the same way football-wise at the other places but I definitely don't think I would have been challenged the same way spiritually in those places, and that's one of the biggest things I've taken away after five years being here," Brandon said.
Following a redshirt season in 2013, Brandon did not play in any games during the 2014 season. He made his collegiate debut against Indiana in 2015, but only played in two other games during the year.
By 2016, Brandon burst on to the scene against Temple, having played just 44 career snaps entering the game, he finished with eight tackles, his first career tackle for loss and his first career pass breakup in 68 total snaps against the Owls.
As injuries took their toll on the Nittany Lion linebackers, Brandon made his first collegiate start on the road at Michigan.
Playing in all 14 games during the 2016 Big Ten Championship season, he highlighted the year with a career-high 14 tackles against Maryland, grabbing his first interception to earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.
He hasn't looked back since, now a regular face on the field, most recently stepping into a starting role at Will linebacker, atop this week's depth chart.
Through his rise to success on the field, what makes his high school sweetheart most proud though, is the character he has kept throughout the process.
"When he wasn't playing the first couple of years, versus last year when he did have the opportunity to be on that big stage, it hasn't changed who he is as a person," Andrea said. "He didn't let any of that affect him - the hard times or the good times, he always remained true to who he is. For me, that's just an incredible husband and best friend, but to so many other people, his teammates, his coaches, I think they've seen that in him, that he's just true and true the same person and they can always rely on him to be who he is. He's just always going to show up and be the Brandon Smith that everyone knows him as."
The same Brandon Smith that everyone knows though, is known for much more than what he contributes on the football field.
A seven-time Dean's List honoree, Smith has already earned one degree in kinesiology and is on track to graduate with a second degree in health, policy and administration. Helped out by a few perfect semesters, Brandon earned a 4.0 GPA in the 2017 spring semester to bring his cumulative GPA to a 3.81.
While managing academic and football responsibilities, Brandon prioritizes being a husband too, and that means he needs to be diligent with his time.
"I just have to be focused and make the most out of the time that I have," Brandon said. "Sometimes it's easy to get lazy like between classes maybe trying to watch Netflix or something. Instead, I have to try to get my work done during the day and in between classes, take advantage of that time more and try to watch film so when I'm home at night I have as little to do as possible to be fair to my wife and not just come home, do work and go to bed.
Andrea and Brandon also both recently applied to medical school, a process that is anything but brief.
For Brandon, that meant spending all spring and summer studying for the MCAT, a more than seven-hour test that's a key part of the application process. After passing the MCAT, it was time for applications.
"The application process was pretty difficult because I was in training camp trying to finish them," Brandon said. "You have to get letters of recommendation from your teachers. I got one from Coach Franklin, he was nice enough to do one for me."
After completing another round of secondary applications featuring more essays and personal statements, it's now a waiting game for both Andrea and Brandon, who await interview rounds from interested medical schools.
While they didn't study together, when they do get time to spend together, helping others is something they can both do as a family.
In 2012, Andrea and her sister Emily founded Honduran Soles, a nonprofit shoe organization designed to provide adequate footwear to those in need all over the world.
"We kind of had this goal where we wanted to raise 200 pairs of shoes and send them to Honduras," Andrea said. "In a matter of months, we had 3,000 pairs of shoes and it just kind of grew from this small dream to this summer, we have sent out over 14,000 pairs in 22 countries."
Andrea's parents graciously offered up their garage, which serves as shoe warehouse for the operation, which she and Brandon, when he has time, dedicate to packing shoes to be sent out with different groups traveling to areas of the world in need.
Together, they traveled to Honduras during spring break in 2015 to spend time with children in an orphanage and build a soccer field.
"When we went there, we were handing out fruit and sandwiches and had some candy," Brandon said. "These kids were going absolutely berserk just to get a lollypop and it probably costs two cents there. Just seeing that level of desperation, in little kids none the less, it makes you realize how blessed we are to live here and how blessed we are to have all our needs met. Most people here have an abundance, way more than they need so it doesn't take much to try to give back and try to improve someone else's quality of life."
Their impact on others spans further than Honduras, as Andrea and Brandon's flower girl in their wedding was a young girl he met during one of Penn State Football's annual visits to the Penn State Children's Hospital.
"Brandon had met her in 2014 when the team went to Hershey over the summer," Andrea said. "I went to Messiah College, which is really close to Hershey, so I started volunteering at Hershey and I got to meet her."
From a friendship, it grew into a truly special relationship, just one small example of the type of opportunities Brandon is proud to have at Penn State.
"We just have tons and tons of opportunities and if you just take one minute extra to spend time with one of these people, you see how much of an impact is has on them," Brandon said. "We have this opportunity where people look up to us here and we're just normal people. People love Penn State Football and love the players, it doesn't take much at all to give back to those people."
From academics and community service to marriage and football, it wasn't always easy to find contentment with his role on the team.
"I said this in the team meeting when Coach Franklin had me share with the team one time, I really made a switch, even before I started playing, from woe-is-me to I'm not getting a chance, and this is and that," Brandon said. "I started just loving my teammates and loving the coaches and that changed my whole perspective."
With a new perspective, how he viewed his Penn State experience, was immediately transformed.
"It wasn't that I didn't work hard, but just little things that I would say to other people or to myself, they weren't good for myself or the team," Brandon said. "When I could make that switch and just love myself, love the players and love the coaches, I started enjoying being here and I think I became a much better teammate during that time."
Now at peace in any circumstance, when looking back on the entire experience, it's his decision to go for it, that has truly made him proud."Unfortunately, a lot of people take their opportunities and circumstances for granted," Brandon said. "It's easy to be ungrateful when you're so focused on yourself. I think I'm most happy that I was able to grow out of that immaturity and see that there's a bigger picture here. I get to be a part of one of the best program's in the country at one of the best institutions in the country. I get to help out in great causes. It's just an amazing opportunity and I'm glad that I was able to make the most out of it.