Mifflin County grad serves PSU coach
Smith is Franklin’s right-hand man
UNIVERSITY PARK — Ever sit down to watch a Penn State football game and think that the guy standing behind coach James Franklin looks familiar?
Kyle Smith, a 2016 graduate of Mifflin County High School, has served as Franklin’s personal equipment manager for the past two football seasons and will enter his third and final season with the team in the Fall.
Smith has been toeing the sidelines at every game and practice, all in the effort of making sure Penn State football’s leader is well taken care of.
He stumbled upon the gig from a friend of his, whose father was an equipment manager for the Nittany Lions in the 1980s.
“My best friend growing up, his dad was an equipment manager in the ’80s and his nephew was one while we were talking about it,” Smith said. “He gave me his contact information and he told me how to get an interview, so I interviewed and the first time I didn’t get it. Then my sophomore spring semester they called me back and offered me a position.”
Since, Smith has become a local celebrity on game day, as his cameos on the sideline have become popular among Mifflin County residents.
“It is awesome to see some of the things people say,” Smith said. “At first, being on TV was so cool and unheard of, but then I got used to it. My favorite part is the reactions I get. When I first started talking to my fiancee, her family saw me, and they made some funny videos and it was the greatest thing.”
Other friends flood Smith’s phone and social media accounts with videos and text messages.
“Some friends on social media always make jokes about taking a drink every time I’m on [camera] and how I never smile when the camera is on me and I look super mean,” Smith said. “When I come back home, I work for my family’s company and the one mechanic I’ve known forever. Each time [he sees me] he shakes my hand and says something about me being a celebrity. I know it’s not like I’m the center of attention, the game is, but all the reactions I enjoy so much. I re-read social media posts hundreds of times and it’s just a lot of fun for all those involved, but especially for me to read and have my phone lit up after the game.”
A typical week for Smith includes laundry, loading equipment into the truck for games, attending and working practices and cleaning up after games.
Smith’s main responsibilities are the same as a typical equipment manager, although his position has a heightened role as he reports directly to Franklin.
“A normal practice runs a couple of hours,” Smith said. “For me, I don’t do as much during the actual practice periods because I run the clock and do stuff for Franklin, so I don’t deal directly with practice equipment. But when we run through plays and do competitions, I keep track of the play number and or score. The preseason is the hardest. We are there three days early and get everyone their gear and tag it with their name in it with a heat press. We do this and check the equipment.”
On game day, Smith arrives four hours before kickoff where he helps to set up the sidelines at Beaver Stadium, puts jerseys onto shoulder pads and prepares for the team to arrive. He then gathers Franklin’s bag and prepares for game day.
“I help take care of what the coaches need pregame,” Smith said. “The other guys help with players. About an hour before kickoff, I walk out with Franklin. I go back in [the locker room] with about 20-25 minutes to go. Then when the game starts, I am glued to his side. I do whatever he needs, such as getting a coach or player for him to talk to. Where he goes, I go. After the game once we’re in the locker room, I am done with him and I collect laundry. When everyone is gone, we go back to the Lasch Building and start the laundry and unpack their bags, or we travel back from away games.”
For Smith, who grew up a die-hard Penn State fan, the job has been a fulfilling experience.
“I grew up watching Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and a lot of other great receivers and I told people up and down that would be me,” Smith said. “If you look at me, I couldn’t even pass for a kicker. But I got this opportunity a different way, and it’s a way I feel like I can make an impact.
“They always say celebrate the wins like the players because we have a part in what goes on,” Smith continued. “Everyone, players and coaches alike, make you feel like a part of the team and I have some good and genuine friendships with a lot of them — inside jokes with a lot of them. They make fun of my voice because of the megaphone, but they all say stuff like ‘you run this’ and all sorts of things like that. It is an awesome thing and each Saturday it’s like the first time, and it is a dream come true.”
Smith has enjoyed being a part of the team’s family first culture that Franklin has created.
“Coach Franklin is a very genuine person,” Smith said. “He treats the team as a family and he really shows it. He jokes around with me and asks how my family is doing all the time. We even have some running jokes from things that have happened over the last couple of years. He really cares about the people in the program and he is definitely the same person when the cameras are on and off.”
Some of Smith’s favorite memories include the yearly White Out, traveling for road games — the Friday night game at Illinois, as well as trips to Iowa and Maryland are among his favorites — as well as getting to experience the Nittany Lions’ Citrus and Cotton Bowl games firsthand.
“The White Outs are always fun, but my favorite game was last year’s opener because it was my fiancees first game in Beaver Stadium and it’s different than any other first game because I’m a part of it and we can share it,” Smith said. “I also got on the stage at the Cotton Bowl and that was great, even though I’m not sure how I got up there or if I could be up there.
“But I enjoyed the things that weren’t football related either like dinner at some restaurant in Indiana after we set up the stadium and just talking to the other managers,” Smith continued. “We have to be close in this job, and it’s fun to be in the hotel the night before a game and be able to decompress and not have to always be about football.”
Smith will work his final season with the Nittany Lions in the Fall and will graduate with a degree in broadcast journalism with minors in business and history. He plans to get married to his fiancee, Hannah, following graduation.
“I am looking forward to the Ohio State game at home with our crowd,” Smith said. “I am excited for senior day because I do get a moment of recognition on the field with my family. And when it’s all said and done, I’m looking forward to thinking back on my time and the legacy I left, which may be small in perspective — but its big to me — and telling my future children and grandchildren that I was a part of something bigger than myself that so many people come together for 12-15 Saturday’s a year for. I was a part of history.”