URBANA, Ohio — For Brett Smith, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. For those who know him, it’s exactly where they figured he’d be some day.
Last week, the former Brookville Raiders standout and Seton Hill University graduate was hired to re-start the sport at the NCAA Division II level at Urbana University in Western Ohio.
Tuesday was his first day on the job and he’ll have a full season to prepare for his first season, technically. The program will hit the mat for the 2018-19 season.
“It’s something that made the position unique,” Smith said Monday night after moving to Urbana over the weekend. “It’s definitely a different sort of challenge and I’ll work to establish the team this year and recruit during the season.
“It was really something where if I was going to get into coaching at the D2 level, this was one of the best opportunities. It’s still close by and to start from the ground up, I’m going to be able to build the team I want.”
The school will have a wrestling practice facility done by next fall and Smith said he’ll likely have an assistant on staff by next summer.
“Being able to start from scratch is too cool of an opportunity to pass up,” Smith said.
Over the past year, Smith was a graduate assistant coach with the wrestling team at Seton Hill near Greensburg. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with an Honors Degree in Biology and will finish up a Masters of Business Administration degree with the help of on-line classes by next August also at Seton Hill.
In his years wrestling with the Griffins, Smith won 48 bouts wrestling across four different weight classes. He also battled injuries, realizing he wrestled much of his sophomore year with Lyme’s Disease after he was diagnosed after the season.
Then in the summer after his junior year, an ACL injury to one of his knees wiped out his senior season in which he still served as one of the team captains.
The gravitation to coaching was always a natural move for Smith, even though he wasn’t sure himself.
“I wasn’t ever really sure,” Smith said. “It was something that the further along my competitive career went, I wasn’t ready for that to be over. Once I decided to be a graduate assistant, that was a stepping stone to buy me some time to see what I wanted to do anyway.”
Smith helped coach the Griffins earn a fifth-place team finish at the NCAA D-II Super Region 1 Tournament and coached five national qualifiers with one All-American. Smith played an active role in fundraising, recruiting, and monitoring academic progress. He also spent two summers working wrestling camps at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
And then came the Urbana opportunity.
“It came pretty much out of the blue,” Smith said. “Coach (Brian) Tucker at Seton Hill was really supportive of the process. It’s too unique of an opportunity to let go and if there was ever a chance to break into coaching at college level, it was as good of an opportunity as any.”
Urbana sponsored an NAIA program for wrestling for nearly 20 years and shut it down in the early 90s.
“I’m excited to announce that Brett Smith will be charged with the task of re-launching our men’s wrestling program”, Urbana Executive Director of Athletics Larry Cox said. “He competed and coached at the NCAA Division II level at an institution very similar to Urbana so he will be very familiar with the type of student-athletes that will be a great fit here.
“Brett is a very polished, well-rounded person who is extremely impressive and who has a passion, drive, and commitment to the sport of wrestling. I think we have the perfect person to lead the modern Blue Knight wrestling program.”
At Brookville, Smith ranks fifth-all time on the Raiders’ wins list with a record of 126-35. He won district titles as a freshman in 2009 and senior in 2012 and was a key wrestler in a program that went from 1-15 his sophomore season to a fourth-place finish at the PIAA State Dual Tournament in 2012.
His former head coach Dave Klepfer isn’t surprised at all that Smith is now in charge of a program.
“He came right in after a couple rough years, won districts as a freshman and was part of a pretty good class,” Klepfer said. “We were 1-15 his sophomore year and he saw a little bit of everything, from a rough patch as a team to turning it around by his senior year and finishing fourth.
“I always said it even around our guys and told him he’d be a good coach if he chose to go that way. I guess there’s a selfish side of me, hoping he’d come back to Brookville some day. He’s going to be a fantastic coach and no doubt he’ll build something nice out there.”
Smith said he’s had a lot of coaches to lean on over the years, from Klepfer to current Clarion University coach Keith Ferraro who was an assistant when Smith was a Raider, to everyone else in between.
“I was able to be around so many good coaches growing up, to guys like Dave Black in elementary wrestling to coach Klepfer and Nick Deloia and with my dad (Dan) in soccer and what he was able to accomplish,” Smith said. “I was around strong coaching growing up and once I got to Seton Hill with Coach Tucker, I was able to be around a program that showed great growth in a short period of time.”
Smith was part of the recruiting efforts under Tucker the past year, combing a pretty deep area of talent in Westmoreland County and the WPIAL in general.
Urbana is also in a good area of wrestling locally as well and he’ll be active cultivating relationships.
“I still have ties at home and I got to know a lot of people at Seton Hill and Pittsburgh area, so I’m definitely looking to recruit in Pennsylvania but Ohio wrestling has been growing with a lot of strong programs around Urbana.
“Especially with the first season, not having a team on campus, I’ll be looking to get in the community and touch base with local programs and introduce myself to the area.”
And he’s ready for his sales pitch, which comes rather easily.
“It’s a unique enough of an opportunity that’ll be an easy sell to be part of the first program to come through,” he said. “It’s going to be something special that I think people want to be a part of.”