When he was younger, Browns rookie fullback Brad Smelley might have wondered if he would ever be as successful in sports as his brother and sister.
Then on April 28, when he became the 247th of 253 players selected in the NFL Draft, he earned bragging rights in the uber-athletic Smelley family.
Except, perhaps, in pingpong.
In February 2006, Smelley’s brother, Chris, passed up a baseball scholarship at Alabama to play quarterback for coach Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. After three tumultuous years, Chris transferred to Alabama and switched to baseball. He’s now a teacher and high school football coach.
His sister, Jana, was an All-South volleyball player at Division III Birmingham Southern, finishing her career in 2005. Now married and living in New York with her photographer husband, Miller Mobley, she might be the best natural athlete in the family, according to her father.
“I think she could probably beat both boys in pingpong even now,” father Bart Smelley said in an email.
Brad Smelley could have chosen the baseball path, too. As a junior, he hit better than .500 with 11 home runs while playing for Bart, who led American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to three state high school baseball titles in seven years as the volunteer coach.
But Brad Smelley was first a wide receiver and then a quarterback for the Patriots, earning Class 2A all-state honors after throwing for 3,022 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2007. He was drawn to football because of its excitement, like his brother, and signed with Alabama.
Brad Smelley was supposed to redshirt as a freshman, but he came off the bench and played receiver in eight games. Adding 15 pounds before his sophomore year, he became an H-back and played in 26 games over two seasons, used mostly as a blocker for running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
Going into his senior year, Smelley had just 20 catches for 203 yards and no touchdowns.
Then came his breakout season in 2011, when Smelley totaled 34 receptions for 356 yards and four touchdowns.
“I think they realized the match-up problems Brad presented when someone with great hands is isolated on a linebacker,” Bart Smelley said Tuesday in an e-mail from China. “The way they used him kept the defenses guessing with a great back like Trent along with deep threats with their wide receivers.”
With Richardson and a defense that had six players drafted last month leading the way in a 21-0 victory over LSU in the national championship game, Smelley caught a game-high seven passes for 39 yards. Smelley credited then-offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, since hired as coach at Colorado State.
“The latter part of the season we started getting mismatches,” Smelley said in a conference call after he was drafted. “Coach McElwain put together some good stuff for me. I just had more opportunities later in the year to make plays. The offense really started clicking at the right time and played well through the end of the season and finished strong in New Orleans.”
His BCS performance likely got the versatile Smelley drafted.
“His value is kind of an all-purpose fullback/tight end-type guy,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said on draft weekend. “He’s one of those hybrid-type guys. In the national championship game, I think he caught the first three balls. He’s got good hands, good instincts. He can play in the backfield or on the line.”
Being a running mate of Richardson’s didn’t hurt, either. The Browns traded up to third to select Richardson, who put in a good word for Smelley.
“Trent said a coach called him and asked him about [me] and he said ‘Go get that guy,’ ” Smelley said. “I appreciated that from my man.”
After being a high school quarterback, playing a blue-collar role might have seemed a demotion to some. But Smelley embraced his new position.
“I think his experience at quarterback helps him in his current position,” Bart Smelley said. “He’s a very smart player. He actually played receiver for three years in high school before his brother graduated.”
Besides playing with Richardson again, Smelley will have something in common with Browns linebacker Emmanuel Acho, a sixth-round pick from Texas.
Acho’s father, Sonny, founded Living Hope Ministries and is raising funds to build a hospital in Nigeria, which he visits every June on a medical mission trip. Bart Smelley is the executive director of Global Effect, a Christian humanitarian organization that organizes mission trips, many to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He said he is in China working on “water filtration solutions for the poverty stricken in developing countries.”
Eventually in the offseason, Brad Smelley might have time to devote to his dad’s ministry. But after he was drafted, Smelley’s joy came from being reunited with Richardson.
“He’s the best back I’ve ever play with, no doubt about it,” Smelley said. “He’s the best back I’ve ever seen in person. He’s a great football player, but a better person. I love that guy.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Faceb ook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.