TAMPA, Fla. – Brandon Smith plans to save the talk for later.
For now, the only player on the Iowa football team from Mississippi is simply soaking it all in.
Making cuts on the deep green grass, working out in a little heat and the heavy air just a few miles away from the shore of Tampa Bay, the sophomore receiver loves everything about the Hawkeyes’ Outback Bowl match-up with Mississippi State.
“When I’m out there running routes on a grass field, being out there in the heat and the humidity, this feels like home,’’ Smith said Thursday after Iowa completed its first full workout at its practice quarters at the University of Tampa.
Smith has been making himself more at home in the Hawkeye offense as the season has progressed.
After catching three passes a year ago as a true freshman, Smith is Iowa’s fourth-leading receiver with 25 receptions covering 328 yards.
He has caught multiple passes in eight of the last nine games he has played and enters the 11 a.m. game on New Year’s Day against Mississippi State after collecting his second touchdown reception of the season in Iowa’s regular-season finale against Nebraska.
The Lake Cormorant, Mississippi native hopes to add to those totals during a postseason match-up that hits home.
“When I found out who were playing I ran next door to Jake Gervase’s house and told him, ‘We’ve got to be ready for these guys,’’’ Smith said. “I was pretty excited about it.’’
He wasn’t alone.
“My mom called me almost right away and she was more excited than me,’’ Smith said.
Smith and his mother, Tyauna, grew up rooting for Ole Miss, the Bulldogs’ instate rival in the SEC, while his father, Roy, and sister, Briana, both attended Mississippi State.
“This game hits home,’’ said Smith, who has spent time rounding up 14 tickets for family members who plan to be in the stands at Raymond James Stadium for the first-ever meeting between the Hawkeyes and Bulldogs.
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Smith said his sister plans to wear a Hawkeye shirt to the game but also plans to be among thousands of Mississippi State fans who will be ringing cowbells throughout the game, a tradition in Starkville that will be allowed in the stands at the Outback Bowl.
“She’ll be ringing in my mom’s ears all day,’’ Smith said.
Smith hopes to give family and friends something to watch.
“When people found out I was going to Iowa, it was like they thought I was going to Southern Miss or something, they didn’t really know,’’ Smith said. “Now, a lot people back home watch my games. They’ll send me messages, say they saw me make this catch or that catch. They know Iowa football now.’’
Smith knows the Bulldogs as well.
He has participated in 7-on-7 teams with Mississippi State’s starting running back, sophomore Kylin Hill, and with redshirt freshman cornerback Tyler Williams.
“They’re a good team with good players on both sides of the ball,’’ Smith said. “Our guys know that. They hear the SEC hype. They can see the big guys they have on defense, how big their D-line is and how big they are on the back end. We know we’re going to have to be at our best against them.’’
Hawkeye receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette doesn’t expect that to be an issue for Smith.
He has seen plenty of energy on the practice field all month from his 6-foot-3, 219-pound teammate.
“He’s pretty fired up about this and he should be,’’ Smith-Marsette said. “He’s from Mississippi and he wants to show the people back home what he can do. He’s learned a lot this year and doing good things for our team.’’
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz sees that too.
“Brandon has been continually improving, almost week to week, which has been good,’’ Ferentz said Thursday. “I’m sure Brandon has a little special interest in this whole thing. Hopefully that doesn’t get him distracted.’’
Smith said his focus is between lines, wanting to make a positive contribution in Iowa’s performance.
The talk, he figures, can come later.
“When the time is right, I hope to have some things to say,’’ Smith said. “Right now, we’ve got a game to get ready to play.’’