Virginia Tech football has a long history of developing walk-ons into elite performers on the field. Wide receiver Kaleb Smith, a redshirt sophomore, is on his way to being part of that tradition.
Smith joined the Hokies in 2018 but didn’t see any game action and redshirted. The following season, he was rewarded with a scholarship and played in his first game in the season opener at Boston College, a game that saw him grab four receptions for 64 yards with an 11-yard touchdown.
After COVID-19 turned normalcy into a thing of the past in 2020, Smith is enjoying his role for Tech both on and off the field here in 2021. Prior to the season, Smith was elected to the team’s Leadership Council as the wide receivers’ representative, a position he does not take lightly.
The larger role seems to be suiting Smith as he has nine receptions for 83 yards through the season’s first three games. He has already tied his career-high for receptions in a season from 2019 and is only five yards away from matching last season’s receiving yardage total (88 yards). He attributes his uptick in production to the work he put in prior to the year.
“Just the off-season work with [quarterback] Braxton [Burmeister] and the offense in general,” Smith said. “He knows what I can do, I know what he can do, and now the coaches know what we can do together.”
Another reason for his productive first quarter of the season could stem from the time he missed at the end of 2020. After playing in eight games, Smith underwent season-ending surgery prior to the team’s final two games versus Clemson and Virginia.
“It was tough having to deal with that, but it wasn’t anything that I wasn’t used to,” Smith said, who also missed his senior season in high school due to injury. “It gave me an opportunity to look at a game from a different perspective. I wasn’t out there playing anymore but I got to see how I could help my teammates, how I could reflect on my old clips and see what I could have done here or there. It’s more the mental part of the game, and that helped me out a lot.”
Smith is coming off one of the best games he’s played in maroon and orange, recording a career-high six receptions for 58 yards while wearing the No. 25 jersey for the first time in his career at West Virginia. Despite the loss to the Mountaineers, Smith’s message to his room is to prepare for Richmond on Saturday.
“We’re just trying to refocus, treat it as a normal game,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter who we go up against, we’re preparing to play the best we can.”
Richmond is not, however, just any other opponent to Kaleb Smith and his family. Smith’s father, James, was a standout safety for the Spiders from 1987-91 and was drafted by the Houston Oiler, while his mother, Kimberly, also played basketball at Richmond. Smith’s cousin, Kerry Wynn, played defensive end at Richmond and earned All-CAA honors his senior year in 2013.
“It’s going to be a fun one,” Smith said. “Obviously, growing up with my dad and my cousin playing there and having great careers there, that was the school for me. I went there every weekend to watch the game.”
When an offer didn’t come after his junior season, Smith decided he would have to make a name for himself at a different school and opted to walk on in Blacksburg. Now on full scholarship with the Hokies, Smith is looking forward to playing the team he adored as a kid.
“Obviously, I’m going to have a chip on my shoulder and show them what I can do,” Smith said. “I’m pretty excited.”
James and Kimberly will both be in attendance today in Lane Stadium and Smith says they support him first despite Richmond’s being their alma mater. “Kerry might be in my ear a bit talking that Spider talk,” Smith said with a laugh, “but we’ll see how it goes.”