NFL draft dream comes true for former Blue Devil

Jared Smith, who had a stellar career at defensive tackle for the University of New Hampshire, was picked Saturday in the seventh round of the NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks who plan to switch him to the offensive line.


That was Jared Smith’s one word response as to how he was feeling less than 24 hours after he became the first former Greencastle-Antrim football player to be selected in the NFL draft. His selection Saturday evening by the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League in the seventh round of the annual draft was quite literally a dream come true.

“Ever since I was a kid I had a dream of being where I am,” Smith told the Echo Pilot Sunday afternoon.

“I’ve been criticized for having that dream. People said how unrealistic it is and how slim the chance is. I just wanted to prove them wrong.”

Being the first Blue Devil to blaze this trail to the professional ranks is not something Smith, a 2008 G-AHS graduate, takes lightly.

“It meant a lot. It’s definitely something I’ve always wanted since I was a kid. I watched the NFL draft every year growing up. I would just close my eyes and think about how good it would feel to hear them calling your name. I was fortunate to have that happen.”

Waiting game

Before his senior season at the University of New Hampshire last fall Smith at 6-3 and 302 pounds was already in the scope of NFL scouts and on draft watch lists. He completed his collegiate career as a defensive tackle for the Wildcats with 129 tackles (26 for a loss), five pass deflections, three forced fumbles and five blocked kicks in 42 games. Smith was a first team pick for the All-Colonial Athletic Association and was a College Sports Journal FCS All-America team selection.

This winter he became the first former Blue Devil to be invited to a NFL scouting combine and he delivered with a 5.08 40-yard dash, 225 pound bench press for 28 reps and a 7.2-second three-cone drill.

Smith was projected to be selected in the fourth or fifth round of the three day draft, April 25 to 27. The volatile process had him wait until the seventh round on the final night with the 35th pick. He was the 241th overall selection. He admitted the wait was unnerving, but had encouragement from his former Blue Devil teammates and family.

“I’ve been in Greencastle so I’ve been around family and that support,” said Smith, who graduated with a degree in kinesiology from New Hampshire in December.

“It was nerve-wrecking, especially coming down to the last round. I was biting nails. It was tough since I was projected earlier, but you never know. I did get a little nervous. But I had to be professional about it. Either way I knew I was going to go on some team if I didn’t get picked, but I just had to keep a positive attitude.”

Driven to succeed

It is that kind of drive that helped lead Smith to a place where he will be inking a rookie contract in the NFL, with a signing bonus to boot. He feels especially blessed coming from not the biggest of the Division I schools.

“It feels real good. It’s tough to be a guy coming from where I came from the Division I-AA. You always have doubts. You’re not from the SEC or ACC. People worry about our competition. It really gives you the focus to silence those doubts.”

Smith has had a football in his hand since he was 3. The athletic focus at his house was always football and he did not stray. When he set lofty goals early on his focus never blurred. And the naysayers probably made him work that much harder.

“I always knew where I wanted to be. I’ve proven what I had to prove and I feel fortunate to be where I am,” the lineman said. “That has helped me in every single workout and allowed me to get where I am and push through beyond that fact that there are people out there who really don’t believe that I can actually be where I am. That really helped me focus and compete.”

Smith admits there were ups and downs along the way, but even the lows were productive.

“It’s all been a positive experience. There have been rough times, but all those rough times teach you and makes you stronger.”

Other side of the ball

Smith knew the Seahawks were interested in him moving from defense to offense. They even made a trip to Greencastle April 24, the day before the draft, to see him in action. The impromptu tryout was nostalgic as Smith took once again to Kaley Field, although the surface is much different than when the former Devil played.

“Coach (Tom) Cable (offensive line/assistant head coach) came to Greencastle to work me out the day before the draft. They didn’t want any other teams to see me going offense. They were being secretive,” Smith recalled.

“It was nice. It brought out some of the memories I had.”

Smith has no trepidation about moving to the other side of the ball. And he already has a friend in Seattle. A Seahawk lineman he met while training in Florida for the combine was converted and last season was a starter for the team. “I have no doubt about it. Knowing my buddy went through the same process with the same coach and he made him into a  starter, I have no doubt he will turn me into the player he wants me to be.”

The ink will not be dry on his contract before Smith digs in for the Seahawks. He’s headed there for a Friday mini-camp.

“I’m really excited and can’t wait,” he said. “They are a bunch of workers. They work hard and they are great, great guys. My buddy loves it.”

Next chapter

Despite his feeling of accomplishment, Smith continues to be driven. He knows he has a whole new set of dreams to make come true in his professional career.

“I haven’t proven anything yet,” he said. “There’s still something to prove. I’ll always work toward that. I always want to prove them wrong.”

Smith also knows he has lots of support from his former teammates, if not physically in Seattle, definitely spiritually.

“All my friends who were on the team in Greencastle when I played were there during the draft,” Smith related. “It was nice having them. It meant a lot to me. Having your friends be there for you is really nice. When you play football together you’ve been through a lot together. You’re friends for the rest of your life.”

Smith feels the same of his New Hampshire connection. “They are very happy for where I am and how far I’ve come. They are very supportive and they’ve been very helpful through this whole process. They were there for me.

“I have a lot of memories that no money can ever buy.”

Dreams do come true

Smith also has a college degree earned in the process of making his way to the pro ranks.

“That’s very important,” Smith said of the diploma. “There are people who don’t get a chance to finish. It’s great and it’s very important. It’s a crucial part of getting to where I am. It comes from working hard in school and on the field.”

Smith hopes youngsters following his story will also see the future they want.

“Stick with your dreams no matter how many critics say what the chances are. There is always a chance. The odds you’re presented with you just turn into opportunity and see where that takes you.”