October 22, 2012 10:56:03 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
FULTON -- Itawamba Community College football player Brandon Smith was not sure the purpose when he was asked to meet head coach Jon Williams in his office last spring.
Williams had a simple request for the former Aberdeen High School standout. Smith was asked to move from defensive back to linebacker.
The position switch has worked as Williams has been a key component in this season's defensive turnaround for the Indians.
While the playoffs are not in the equation, the Indians will try to play spoiler when they play host to third-ranked East Mississippi Community College in a North Division matchup, which is the final regular season game for both teams.
Kickoff for ICC's Homecoming is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at Eaton Stadium in Fulton.
"I really wasn't sure what to expect when this season started," said the 6-foot, 200-pound Smith. "The coaches told me this was the best thing for me because I could see more things coming out of the backfield. I decided to embrace it as a challenge.
"The whole time that I have played football, I have never backed down from a challenge."
The Indians (5-3 overall, 3-2 North Division) will have a quite challenge Saturday. EMCC (8-0 overall, 5-0 North Division) clinched the division title with Thursday night's 56-49 win over Northwest Mississippi Community College. The Lions enter the contest on a 20-game, two-season win streak.
"We have had some ups and downs," Smith said. "This team is a lot closer than any other team I have ever played on. The offensive and defensive players get along. It is like we are one big family. That is what made the losing difficult at times. We really wanted to make the playoffs. We just fell a little short of that goal."
Itawamba opened the season with three straight wins. Injuries began to mount as the Indians dropped three straight decisions. A missed call by the officials hurt dearly in a 14-12 division loss to Holmes Community College. The next two weeks saw ICC fall 49-7 at Northwest Mississippi Community College and 17-14 at home to Copiah-Lincoln Community College.
Despite falling from playoff consideration, the Indians have finished strong with back-to-back wins over Coahoma Community College (31-28) and Northeast Mississippi Community College (36-15) to secure a winning season.
"There is a lot of swag to this team," Smith said. "The chemistry is really good. We got a lot of young guys but they came in ready to play. Sometimes, when you are a young team, you struggle until everybody grows up. We have a lot faster team and we have some really good play-makers, even some of them are new players.
"I think the attitude is right around here. It shows by how hard we are still playing. I am looking forward to my last game Saturday and looking forward to seeing how well this team does next year."
The Indians do ride the momentum of a two-game win streak. Not only was the victory over Northeast convincing, it was the Indians' third straight over their arch-rivals. Smith led the way Saturday and for his efforts was chosen Monday as the MACJC Defensive Player of the Week.
Smith had five tackles, including two tackles for loss, a sack, a 42-yard interception return for score, two fumble recoveries and a 23-yard return of a blocked punt.
"That is what Brandon does, he simply makes plays," Williams said. "You can line him up anywhere on the field and he will find the football. We thought moving him to linebacker would be the best thing for this team. He really responded to that challenge. He has been an anchor and a leader all season."
For the season, Smith has 50 total tackles, including 10.5 for loss. Smith has a team-high four fumble recoveries, as well as a pair of interceptions.
"I knew it was important for me to provide leadership since I am a veteran and we have so many young players," Smith said. "We told the young players that we can't hold your hand anymore. If you are scared, you don't need to be on the field. But if you hustle and grind, we will love you to death.
"I think they have bought into that mentality and made us a better team."
The Indians have been stout on defense. Itawamba has only allowed 110 total points this season, which is less than 14 points per game. Only Coahoma scored more than 15 points. The defensive tenacity starts with Smith and his linebacking corps.
"I have grown to love playing linebacker," Smith said. "My job is to jam receivers and be more physical. When I changed from safety to linebacker, I had to learn some things. I tried to do that as quickly as I could to help my team."
Now, Smith will try to help his team one last time. After Saturday's Homecoming goes into the books, Smith can turn his full attention to finding a place to play senior college football.
"I don't know just yet what the future holds," Smith said. "I am looking for any school willing to accept me. All I need is one scholarship. One will do me just fine."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter