NEPD Contributor: Oliver Thomas
The Division I Football Championship Subdivision is not known for producing many NFL draft picks. But big talent can still come from smaller programs—just ask University of New Hampshire defensive tackle Jared Smith.
The 6’3”, 302-pound Greencastle, Pa., native made a name for himself after joining the team as a redshirt in 2008. Over 42 games with the Wildcats, Smith totaled 129 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, five pass deflections, three forced fumbles and five blocked kicks. Following his 2012 campaign, Smith was named to the All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team and to the College Sports Journal FCS All-America squad.
The 23-year-old earned invites to the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game in Allen, Texas and the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. He impressed as a member of The Nation team, notching two sacks. He also performed well at the combine, benching 28 reps of 225 pounds, running a 5.08 second 40-yard dash and even a posting 7.2 second three-cone drill.
Smith has a chance to be the first UNH Wildcat drafted since cornerback Corey Graham was selected by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. Projected as a Day 3 pick by most evaluators, he provides scheme versatility due to his strength and quickness off the snap.
With the draft just three weeks away, No. 90 was kind enough to discuss his journey to the NFL with me.
On how his time at UNH prepared him for the next level: “My time at UNH was always focused on the next game because that next game could be the key to my future success as a football player. That’s what Coach [Sean] McDonnell wanted all of us to do, to have goals. He taught all of us, including Jerry Azumah, Corey Graham, and Chad Kackert, to maintain our focus to become better players.”
On his training for the NFL draft: “For the past three months, I have been training at API in Gulf Breeze, Florida. Since I returned from our pro day at UNH, I have been striving to continue to improve at position drills and follow the lifting program given to me by my head strength coach at API. Retired NFL player Fred Robbins was my positions coach while at API. He taught me hand drills, footwork, and moves that have helped me in the Texas vs. The Nation game and I continue to work on those drills at my high school in Greencastle, Pa.”
On his experience at the Texas vs. The Nation Game: “It was a great experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I met great teammates on The Nation’s side and developed long lasting friendships. Competing against the top seniors in the country gave me an opportunity to showcase my skills and prove that I was more than qualified to play in the Texas vs. The Nation Game. It was very satisfying to know that I was able to contain the offensive line and penetrate the line to pressure the quarterback. The two sacks were a payoff for all of the hard work and were a result of the position work that I did with Fred Robbins. He taught me what I needed to know about my position to help me beat my opponents and eventually forced them to double team me once they realized that I was not only there to play, but I was there to win.”
On his trip to the NFL combine, and how he stacked up against the other participants: “The NFL combine was by far the greatest experience that I have had to this date. The combine allowed me to be compared to the top college players in the nation which was a great honor. After the combine, I felt that my combine drills were representative of my abilities and my times stood out among the others. I could see the difference between me and the other players in the SEC, PAC, ACC, etcetera. Many players didn’t take full advantage of the NFL combine by not going to meetings or not competing in the combine itself, but I did everything that I could do to take advantage of the NFL combine. Coming from UNH, I had to prove myself to the NFL teams that were in attendance. This was the biggest “job interview” that I would ever have and I made the most of it by working extremely hard at everything I did. My success allowed me to be compared to all of the other athletes in attendance on the same level.”
On his communication with NFL scouts and teams: “I have talked to numerous teams before, during, and after the combine. I have received great feedback from teams about where I stand in the draft. Many scouts have commented on my progress at a Division I-AA school and expressed how I stand out among on the others that were at the NFL combine and Texas vs. The Nation Game. I have one private workout with the New Orleans Saints on April 14 and still anxiously waiting for more.” [He has since scheduled a workout with the Seattle Seahawks]
On his strong suit, and how he can be utilized in a defense: “I think my strong suit is my versatility on the defensive line as a defensive end, nose tackle and three-technique. I see myself playing anywhere on the defensive line for any team. I am willing to play any position and my versatility is what I believe will gives me an edge among others in my position for the 2013 NFL Draft.”
On whether he has something extra to prove, being from the FCS level: “Absolutely. This is without a doubt the one thing people have commented. Proving that I belong in the next level is something that I set out to do a long time ago. The Texas vs. The Nation Game silenced a lot of those doubts with the two sacks and the continuous pressure that I put on the quarterback throughout the game. In addition, the NFL combine was a leveling field that allowed me to be compared to the top players in the nation. I will always feel that I need to prove to everyone why I belong, but I like having that pressure on me because I know that I will work harder than anyone. Working hard is in my nature from being a New Hampshire Wildcat and I am willing to prove that to anyone.”
On what’s next for him as draft day approaches: “Strictly football. The measurables, such as the 40-yard dash and the vertical, quantify players and place them on an objective scale, but the important measurables are on the field. Positioning drills give a brief overview of a players abilities but watching and comparing game tape will show a players true ability. As the game is constantly changing, it is important to adapt and change with it because I don’t believe there is room in the NFL for peaking in performance; no matter how many years someone played. There are always areas to improve.”
On the type of player a team will be getting in Jared Smith: “I believe that they will get a dedicated, hardworking, versatile team player. I will be the first one on the practice field and the last one off. Coming from a Division I-AA school and having the desire to prove myself, and the commitment and power to do so, I will do what needs to be done to beat out anyone in my position.”