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Multitalented Braves star Smith might have to drop sport in college

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The athletics crossroads Brenden Smith will face next winter may or may not include a home plate.

Committed to play football at Marian University, the Indian Creek senior would love to be part of the Knights’ baseball program should circumstances permit.

“I’ll probably decide after football season to see how hard it is to balance academics and athletics,” said Smith, the Daily Journal’s 2013 Player of the Year in football after leading the 9-3 Braves in seven statistical categories, including rushing yards (960), receptions (53), receiving yards (948), touchdowns (34) and total points (205).

“I would love to play baseball, so it will kill me if I can’t play.”

The 6-foot, 197-pound Smith proved to be a Swiss Army knife for the Braves last football season having at some point lined up at receiver, running back, quarterback, safety, linebacker, punter, kicker and return specialist.

A four-year starter in baseball, Smith, the Braves’ shortstop and No. 3 hitter, has grown up wanting to play professional baseball. To relinquish the sport would mean, in effect, surrendering a dream.

“Brenden is not the first one to have this problem. I played two years of basketball and football at Indiana Central (now the University of Indianapolis), so I know how he’s thinking,” Indian Creek football coach Mike Gillin said.

“It’s one of the things you hate for kids to have to go through. I think Brenden loves baseball as much as he does football, and he’s always been honest about that. But his scholarship is in football, so he has to honor that commitment.”

Marian’s 2014 baseball roster includes three players from Johnson County high schools — sophomore pitcher Brett Schultheis (Franklin), sophomore infielder Brice Laigle (Center Grove) and freshman outfielder Conner Beidelman (Greenwood).

On the Knights’ spring football roster are sophomore defensive back Austin Bowman (Franklin) and senior offensive lineman Luke Burkhart, who is from Greenwood and attended Roncalli High School. Former Center Grove kicker Seth Northern is an incoming freshman.

In other words, Smith fits in whether he plays both sports or just football.

Marian’s football program achieved the summit in 2012 by winning the NAIA national championship.

Enter Mark Henninger, himself a Roncalli graduate who in 2013 watched his first Knights squad rally from a 1-3 start to finish with the season with a 6-5 record.

The Marian coaching staff’s options are many when it comes to Smith.

“They are looking to put me at safety or possibly as an outside linebacker. I’m just looking to get on the field any way I can. I enjoy scoring touchdowns, but I also like to hit people,” Smith said.

“I take it as a compliment they think I’m tough enough to play defense for them.”

Smith squeezed as much out of his four years at Indian Creek as possible, lettering all four years in both sports while maintaining a 3.0 grade-point average.

He caught a total of 215 passes over his football career for 48 touchdowns. His 3,157 receiving yards puts him at No. 8 all-time among Indiana high school players.

Gillin’s program posted a 38-13 record with him in uniform.

“It’s definitely been interesting,” Smith said, laughing. “Starting as a freshman in football going to (Class 3A) semistate with that very talented (2010) team kind of set me up for high school. It’s just been amazing for me athletically and socially. An experience I don’t want to end.”

Soon enough it will. Then it’s onward and upward for one of the best all-around athletes ever to wear Indian Creek colors.

“It might work out to where Brenden still plays baseball. What he wants is what I want him to get,” Gillin said. “He was certainly a huge part of what we’ve been able to do the last four years.”

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