Last football season Braden Smith finished off his career at Franklin College. Now the 2016 Mattoon grad has signed a contract to play in the inaugural Fan Control Football league. 

By Mike Monahan

Many kids dream of playing in the National Football League, including 2016 Mattoon graduate Braden Smith.

He has not reached the NFL yet, but he has signed a contract to play professional football in the inaugural year of the Fan Controlled Football League. He will become at least the third MHS grad to play at the professional level, following Rick Moss, who played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1979, and Rick Duncan, who played from 1967-69 for the Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions. 

“Originally, I signed to play in the Arena Football League for the Salina Liberty in Kansas, but when I saw this they let me take the new offer,” said Smith, the son of Greg and Rachel Smith. “What really made it intriguing is that my agent told me there would be NFL scouts that were recommending the league to him. It is a chance for me to get some pro film out there and what I know would be better competition than what I would have had otherwise (Arena Football League). It is over before the NFL draft starts this year.”

Smith, a 6-foot-6, 235 pound quarterback, graduated from Franklin College last spring with a degree in public relations and a minor in quantitative methods. 

At Franklin Smith, he played under Mike Leonard, who retired last season after 17 years with the Grizzlies as the school’s all-time winningest coach at 129-55. 

In four years for the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference team, Smith completed 62 percent of his passes, going 404-for-655 for 5,293 yards, 46 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions in 41 games. He also ran 157 times for 598 yards and 11 touchdowns in guiding the Grizzlies to a 29-12 mark in games he played.

His junior year he earned first-team all-HCAC honors by completing 226 of 350 for 3,226 yards with 28 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran the ball 71 times for 284 yards and scored eight touchdowns. With a 165.0 passer efficiency rating, he ranked fourth in the nation in passing yards and the Franklin offense led Division III in yards per game at 558.3.

He earned second-team HCAC after a senior year in which he was named the Diamond Dave “Golden Nail” Courage Award winner after for battling through rough hits and injuries. 

“Receiving this award was very meaningful to me,” Smith told Jeff Owens last February. “I’ve never been carried away by receiving awards or recognition, but getting this award, though, was especially meaningful to me because I had broken my right thumb, which was on my throwing hand, in the second game of the season. Some may not know, but it was difficult to come back after just two weeks and throw a football.”

The FCF will be streamed on the platform Twitch where camera-equipped drones will deliver video-game-style views. 

“Twitch is a huge platform and I already knew of it,” said Smith. “There are millions of people with the app. 

The league, announced last September, has four teams and the players currently don’t know which team of the following teams they will be on – Glacier Boyz, Beasts, Zappers and Wild Aces. All games will be played in Atlanta. 

Team owners include 2012 Heisman Trophy award winner Johnny Manziel, boxing champion Mike Tyson and former NFL players Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman. On Tuesday, WNBA star Renee Montgomery joined Lynch as a co-owner.

The game will be played on a 50-yard field with 10-yard end zones. 

Fans get to submit some plays that coaches will use in games. The fans will also assess if players had two feet inbounds on sideline receptions. There are no kickers in the game or any special teams. The fans make the draft for the six-week season, which is followed by two weeks of playoffs. 

“The biggest misconception is that it is fan control,” said Smith. “The coaches give the fans a few selections, but it is the coaches who are in charge of what plays are run. It is still regulated. I can choose what I want to do and you can anticipate adjustment, but not as much as many people, at first.”

Fans will also vote on a list of plays that are pre-selected to fit the down, distance and personnel. The contest will be two 20-minute halves and the five-yard bump and run rule is reduced to just three yards. 

The league is modeling itself COVID-19 wise after the NBA as all players will reside at one Hilton Hotel with room and board included. 

“They make us into pods, a group of four guys and the pods travel to and from the hotel to the practice facility or the bubble. There is also a super pod that is eight players. There is a converted ball room made into a weight room. The first week is meetings via zoom. I will have a room to myself so I won’t be in touch with other people other than when we go to practice or games. Players are redrafted each week and the owners can choose one player that they want to keep the entire season.”

Smith reports Monday, followed by a week of being quarantined and then two weeks of preseason training. The season starts in early February and ends at the end of March. 

“It is a great opportunity,” said Smith. “There will be some big names involved. I am excited to get started. It is really fast paced.”

At Franklin, Leornard said the past four or five quarterbacks had all played overseas professionally.

“I spoke with former coaches, seeking advice if the Arena League was a wise decision,” said Smith. “I talked to a couple of them and I really appreciated their advice and views on it. When I heard the NFL was recommending the league, that helped me, too.”

His junior and senior years at Mattoon he threw for a total of 3,826 yards with 36 touchdowns and 17 interceptions and he was a second team all-Apollo Conference both years under Troy Johnson. He was also on the JG-TC All-Area basketball team as a senior and a second team all-conference player. 

“It was a dream for me to play football during recess when I was younger and then high school, which is when you realize how few have an opportunity to play at the college level and then go on to play professionally. I am grateful to have the opportunity.”

Smith said he was humbled by playing at a small college. 

“I was quick to realize how in-depth the game is and how much the schemes are deeper than I thought,” said Smith. “In high school you just run a post, and now, if you are the QB, you break down a defense in seven seconds and make a play. I am now taking the approach of being a student. I really have a lot to learn. My junior year at MHS I was at the point where I didn’t want to play. My junior year started at Franklin and I fell in love with it again.”

Smith said he’s been fortunate to have been coached well through the years. 

“My dad coached me in JFL and is the biggest influence on me on life and football,” said Smith. “Coach Johnson was a huge help. I can’t say enough about him or assistant coach Jared Kimbro also. They are great men and great leaders. At Franklin, coach Leonard reminded me a lot of my dad and coach Johnson. They are all super great as well as Craig Yeast (former Franklin offensive coordinator, now head coach at Kentucky Wesleyan). He is one of the coaches I called for advice as I value his opinion. Our bond is important. I am standing on the shoulder of all of the coaches I had right now.”

Smith said he is excited to see how the league fares.

“It could take off or not be around for a year or two,” said Smith. “My goal is to get professional film and see what comes from there.”