Blue Raiders Smith, Upton eager for return to Nashville

Richie James makes the catch in traffic. The MTSU Blue Raiders suffered a loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores at Johnny "Red" Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, TN, on Saturday, October 3, 2015. (MTSU Sidelines/Greg French)

Photo by Gregory French/MTSU Sidelines

This Saturday, the Blue Raiders will travel less than 40 miles to Nashville when they take on the Vanderbilt Commodores. There are many reasons as to why this matchup is so special. For starters, the small trek is exciting because it’s a chance for Middle Tennessee to face an instate rival again and to be featured on national television. But for two Blue Raiders, it’s a homecoming.

Wide receivers Patrick Smith and Isiah Upton are getting their chance to relive their high school playing days in front of their hometown crowd this Saturday. Both natives of Nashville, the two even attended East Nashville Magnet School where they played football together.

Separated in age by only one year, Smith and Upton share a unique bond on and off the field.

“I love him,” Upton said about getting to play with Smith again. “I love playing with him, I love doing anything with him. He’s like a brother to me. I’ve grown up playing with him all my life.”

Both are receivers at MTSU, but that wasn’t the case in high school. During their time at East Nashville, Upton played quarterback while Smith was his go-to wideout. Together, they were a deadly one-two punch, accounting for more combined touchdowns than some individuals get in a career.

In their last two seasons together at East Nashville, Upton threw for 32 passing touchdowns. Of those, 17 were brought in by Smith, making up 53 percent of Upton’s passing touchdowns his sophomore and junior seasons.

In their final year together, the duo started the season with eight straight games where they connected for touchdowns. Eight straight is nearly unheard of, even at the professional level.

NFL Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning connected for over 118 touchdowns in their 11 seasons together with the Indianapolis Colts, making them the best quarterback-wide receiver duo in the history of the sport. However, even those two only ever connected for five consecutive games with at least one touchdown.

Smith and Upton are without a doubt special when together, and in the wake of Demetrius Frazier’s injury last week, Upton might get his first career start this Saturday alongside Smith.

In his first career start against Alabama A&M, Smith brought in three catches for 56 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown reception.

“It feels good,” Smith said when asked how it feels to have scored a touchdown last week. “It gives me confidence to keep me going throughout the season. We have had another injury though, so a lot of people are going to have to step up, including myself.”

The team hasn’t announced its starter for the Z-receiver position yet, but Upton practiced this week in preparation to be the guy if his number is called.

“As of right now, I’m not sure if I will be starting,” said Upton. “But I am going to come out every day and work as hard as I can to be the starter.”

One might say that Upton possibly getting his first start as a freshman inside a South Eastern Conference stadium might keep him up at night. However, this won’t be the young wideout’s first time playing on Vanderbilt’s field.

“It’s a good atmosphere,” Upton expressed about playing at Vanderbilt. “You know we played there when I was in high school so I kind of already got the feel of what that field is like. It feels good to go back and play in Nashville.”

Upton led East Nashville to a 38-36 victory over Pearl-Cohn High School inside Vanderbilt Stadium in 2014. As a senior quarterback, Upton threw for 14-20 with 110 yards in the air while also using his legs for 17 carries, totaling 106 yards and three touchdowns for the day.

The two also said that getting to play in front of friends and family is something they will cherish, being that this could be the last time the two play at the state’s capital together.

But as Smith and Upton lock-in for Saturday’s matchup, they want nothing more than to come out with a victory.

“I’m ready,” said Smith. “I want to play against them. Vandy was in my backyard. So I’m ready to play.”

Kickoff against Vanderbilt is set for 3 p.m. and can viewed on the SEC Network Alternate.

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To contact Sports Editor Connor Ulrey (@connorulrey), email

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