WR KeAndre Lambert-Smith Didn’t Want Red Carpet Treatment
For a player with 31 offers, two official visits aren’t a whole lot. But to say that wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith made his decision to commit to Penn State based on those two visits – trips to Happy Valley and North Carolina in June – wouldn’t be telling the whole story.
In reality, Dyrri McCain, his coach at Maury High in Norfolk, Va., thinks his unofficial visits to schools helped Lambert-Smith’s decision-making process even more.
“He didn’t want the catered treatment,” McCain said. “He didn’t want to be courted and walked down the red carpet. Every school he went to, he was paying attention to the ins and the outs, the atmosphere, the people, the education. He didn’t need to go on every official visit to see who was going to bring out the best red carpet.”
When Lambert-Smith officially committed in October, choosing the Nittany Lions over North Carolina, Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia, he rounded out the 2020 class as Penn State’s highest-rated wide receiver recruit. And, just as McCain suggested, it was an unofficial visit to University Park that stuck out in his mind.
“I’ve been to the Ohio State White Out [in 2018]. Those games are crazy,” Lambert-Smith said. “They probably have the best fans, or at least, one of the best fan bases in the entire country. That atmosphere was ridiculous. It was truly a big-time atmosphere. ... That’s one thing that really stands out about the school. Their fans and game day [atmosphere] were awesome.”
Although his lead recruiter, wide receivers coach Gerad Parker, later departed to become offensive coordinator at West Virginia, Lambert-Smith will have a chance to play in White Out games – and perhaps sooner rather than later.
In his senior season at Maury, Lambert-Smith posted gaudy numbers on a team that finished 16-0 and won the Virginia Group 5A state title for the first time in 80 years. He finished the year with more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage to go with 26 touchdowns.
McCain said Lambert-Smith spent the previous off-season focused on improving his abilities with the ball in his hands, an area he hadn’t explored as much earlier in his high school career.
“He knew he was going to draw those double-teams or triple-teams with the safety over the top, so what skill do you have to [improve] to still have a productive season?” McCain said. “He knew he had to get better with the ball in his hands, so we could give him the ball in the backfield or have him catching screens or whatever, to eliminate that double-team.”
Adding that aspect to his game is likely to prove invaluable upon his arrival at Penn State. The receiver position is the team’s most notable question mark heading into the 2020 season, and Lambert-Smith should have every chance to compete for snaps as a true freshman.
He’s listed at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, and while he’ll likely bulk up this summer, he would already be an average-sized receiver among the Nittany Lions. What’s more, he has a skill set that he’s continually working to refine, one that makes him a candidate for a role in Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense.
“We’re looking for guys with ball skills,” tight ends coach Tyler Bowen said. “[Lambert-Smith] is a guy with elite ball skills, [as well as] very good short-area quickness, change-of-direction speed getting in and out of his breaks, and he’s a winner. He came from a winning program, had a great senior year. He’s set up to come in and be successful early.”
The winning gene is one that runs in the family. Lambert-Smith is the nephew of Kam Chancellor, a two-time All-Pro safety and Super Bowl XLVIII champion with the Seattle Seahawks. McCain said the two share a “phenomenal” relationship and that Lambert-Smith often relies on Chancellor when he has a question or is in need of advice.
“I think the one thing that Kam does great is that he didn’t baby KeAndre through the process,” McCain said. “He let Dre go through that adversity. That’s the best way to go about it. Kam did a great job, letting him grow as a young man and as a person.”
While McCain said Lambert-Smith is a jokester who likes to laugh with his teammates, the wideout also shares with his uncle a knack for shining in big moments.
McCain recalled Maury’s regional playoff game against Salem, then the No. 1 school in the area, when Lambert-Smith made a pair of crucial plays: first a wide receiver screen on which he streaked spectacularly across the field, and later a play on which he lined up at quarterback and kept the ball on a read-option, taking it 37 yards to the end zone. Maury won the game, 28-14, before finishing its undefeated season with two more victories and the state title.
“Those two plays in that game just showed who KeAndre Lambert is,” McCain said. “When the lights are big, the kid shows up, and no one can deny that. He always puts the team first, but when it’s time, he shows up.”
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