Thursday, April 28 promises to be a big day for one former N.C. Central University Eagle Ryan Smith. Smith, a cornerback with the Eagles from 2012 to 2015, will be the first Eagle football player selected in the NFL draft since 2007.
If selected, Smith will be the third NCCU Eagle to make the draft, alongside Reggie Smith and Greg Peterson, since the mid-1980s. The last Eagle selected in the NFL draft was cornerback Robert Massey. Massey was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the second round in 1989.
Smith, 22, said his success proves that small colleges like NCCU bring a lot of talent to the game and that it’s not all about him alone. “I believe this is an amazing opportunity for North Carolina Central’s football team as well as a great benefit for other smaller colleges with people who have talent can benefit from,” he said.
From redshirt freshman up to his 2015 senior year Smith set a stellar record as an Eagle.
Smith as a freshman started in eight out of eleven games and was the team’s second-leading tackler with 65 total takedowns.
By his sophomore year he ranked second on the Eagle squad and 19th in the MEAC with 88 total tackles. In his junior year Smith became a NCCU icon with his end-of game fumble recovery at the goal line against North Carolina A&T. With the recovery the Eagles held 21-14 a lead over the Bulldogs.
In his senior year Smith led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with 52 year tackles. In kickoff returns he ranked 10th in the nation with an average of 28.1 yards per return. During his senior year Smith was named of one the conferences top cornerbacks and was named to the All-MEAC second-team.
Smith attended Wise High School in Maryland where he earned all-league and all-state honors. He led his high school to an overall 12-2 in 2010. Surprisingly, Smith’s first love was basketball, not football, which he only took up only in high school.
According to Smith, who came to NCCU on a football scholarship, the main reason he decided to come to NCCU was because of the strength of the Eagle coaching staff. “With the assistance of the coaches my skill set improved and I was taught how to become a quality cornerback,” he said.
In February and March Smith participated in the NFL combine, a competitive showcase where rookies are observed by professional team scouts.
Smith said has met with recruiters from and practiced with a number of NFL team, including the Carolina Panthers, the Miami Dolphins, the Buffalo Bills, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Indianapolis Colts.
Smith’s long time hero is former Dallas Cowboy cornerback Deion Sanders. “Deion had the ability to shut down any receiver and the ability to help his team win multiple Super Bowls,” he said, adding that he considers Sanders the greatest cornerback ever in history.
He said that the top cornerback playing to day is Arizona Cardinal Patrick Peterson. Peterson, he said, is explosive and is a master at shutting down receivers. “This quality makes him unique,” said Smith.
But it’s Carolina Panther cornerback Josh Norman who most resembles his style of play. “Josh is short, but steps up big when needed. I feel like Josh and I are very similar.”
Things look promising for Smith’s in Thursday’s draft. In the CBS Sports mock draft he was predicted to be selected by the New York Jets in the third round. “I plan to spend draft day at home in Maryland with my family,” he said.
If signed to a NFL team Smith has already plotted out his budget. “I will pay off my student loans, pays tithes to my church, provide money to my family and buy my dream car, an Audi R8.”