Wednesday afternoon was a big day for Northeast Mississippi Community College offensive lineman Ethan Smart, who brought his head coach Greg Davis from Booneville back to his DeSoto County home to witness Smart sign a national letter of intent to play football at Purdue next fall.
Wednesday started the signing period for junior college sophomores to commit to four-year programs and Smart heading to the Big Ten Conference school was arguably the most notable signing for JUCO players from DeSoto County.
Smart’s signing also signals confidence in a change of regime in West Lafayette, Ind., as Jeff Brohm took the reins of the Boilermaker football program earlier this month. Some reports rate Brohm’s hiring as the number one coaching hire among the Power Five conferences this off-season.
Northeast Mississippi fashioned a 6-3 record this past fall, a huge turnaround from the previous year’s 2-7 record. Davis said Smart was a big reason for that turnaround.
“The sophomore dedication was unreal,” Davis said. “That was the biggest turnaround for us and his work ethic and his development over the last year was unbelievable. He has a huge up side and he’s going to be able to play a lot of football. I think he made a wise choice going to Purdue.”
Davis said as many as 12 Division I offers for Smart came from the likes of Middle Tennessee State, South Florida, Troy, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas State, and others. But heading to the Big Ten is an impressive step up for the former DeSoto Central Jaguar.
Smart is looking forward to playing for the new man on the Boilers’ sideline in Brohm.
“I really enjoyed the head coach (Brohm),” Smart said. “We got to talk a whole lot when I was up there. He seemed like he was a really great guy.”
Smart credits his time at Northeast for developing his football game and the football assets he’ll bring to Purdue.
“I’ll bring quick feet, I’m fast and I can get out and handle one-on-one guys,” Smart said.
This past season, Smart started all nine games for the Tigers at right tackle, part of an offensive line that recorded only 5.5 sacks for the entire schedule. For that, Smart was named a second-team all-MACJC All-State selection.
In high school, Smart played for the North in the 2014 Bernard Blackwell All-Star game and was part of the Jags’ program for three years under former coach Matt Wallace. His senior season, Smart’s squad clinched a MHSAA 6A playoff spot after a victory over cross-town rival Southaven, one of 19 DeSoto Central victories during his varsity career.
Now, Smart hopes to improve the fortunes of a Purdue program that last season struggled in the Big Ten to a record of 3-9 and was 1-8 in conference games with an overtime win over Illinois as its only victory.
Gerad Parker took over on an interim basis after the firing of former head coach Darrell Hazell in mid-October.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.