Brett Smith admits he was devastated when his home-state Oregon Ducks showed no interest in recruiting him.
Wyoming's junior quarterback clearly has gotten over it.
Smith will begin his third year as the starter when the Cowboys open at No. 18 Nebraska on Saturday night. If he's as productive this season as he was in the past two, he'll be the school's all-time total offense leader by December.
He'll also have continued to raise his NFL stock.
``Once I got here and played a little bit,'' he said, ``kind of the animosity toward all the schools that didn't recruit me turned into me falling in love with this state and this school and wanting to play for this fan base and playing because I love the game.''
The 6-foot-3, 206-pound Smith is right at home in coach Dave Christensen's spread offense. He's a pure passer who has the ability to run when a play breaks down.
He threw for 27 touchdowns against six interceptions last season, averaged 308 yards a game in total offense and led the Mountain West Conference in passing efficiency and points responsible for. He'll go into the Nebraska game with 174 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, tied with Central Florida's Blake Bortles for the NCAA's longest active streak.
Smith won't sneak up on the Cornhuskers. He threw for 166 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-14 loss in Laramie, Wyo., in 2011.
``I walked away from that thoroughly impressed,'' Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. ``I thought he was a tough, gritty competitor. He threw the ball well and was tougher to tackle than he looks like he would be. So he's certainly going to present some challenges.''
For all his personal success, Smith is only 12-11 as the starter. He missed two games last season, both losses, because of concussions. Wyoming was 4-8 after going 8-5 with a bowl loss in 2011.
``I know that we have the capability of winning,'' Smith said. ``Now it comes down to us executing and making sure we're mentally sharp each game. I want to win, go to a bowl game and win it. Those are the personal goals I have every year. I want to start winning again.''
Smith's main targets are Robert Herron and Dominic Rufran. Herron, who missed four games because of injury, had 31 catches for 657 yards and, like Smith, is drawing interest from pro scouts.
``I have a ton of confidence in the guys around me,'' Smith said. ``We have some playmakers at receiver. I've been able to have some time back in the pocket provided by the big boys.''
Smith's preparation for the season included a trip to the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana for the second straight year and workout sessions with former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia in California.
Playing at Nebraska will be comparable to the environment for last year's opener at Texas, where a crowd of 101,000 watched the Cowboys lose 37-17 after leading until the middle of the second quarter. A school-record crowd of more than 90,000 is expected at the newly expanded Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
``It's going to be a ton of fun to play in an atmosphere like that,'' Smith said. ``A big reason I play college football is to compete with the best.''
Smith didn't know if he would have that opportunity when he was a high school senior in Salem, Ore. He played in the largest class of schools and was the state's Gatorade Player of the Year, but he was deemed a two-star recruit by Rivals.com and Scout.com.
Smith had grown up hoping to go to Oregon, where his father, Kevin, played football but did not letter. Failing that, Smith wanted to go to Oregon State.
It was a no-go for both places.
``It was one of the hardest things in my life,'' Smith said. ``Basically, the thing I got was them telling me I'm not good enough to live my dream. That was tough going through at 18 years old. A lot of thoughts went into my head, like, `Should I even be playing ball?' and `Are they right?' ``
Smith was left to choose among scholarship offers from Wyoming, San Jose State, New Mexico State, Portland State and Eastern Washington.
He said Wyoming was the first school to offer, so he accepted.
``When I got an opportunity to play out here, I embraced it,'' he said. ``I feel like God put me here, and I've gone a million miles per hour toward achieving my dream and I'm living it out right now.''