A year ago, Ryan Smith was balancing football practices at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium with classwork, and probably going to Chicken Wednesday with friends.
Now, he has signed a multi-million dollar contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After a solid preseason performance, former N.C. Central University defensive back Ryan Smith has made the Buc’s 53-man roster.
“Ever since the 11th grade in high school was when I was like ‘I’m going to the NFL,’” Smith said at a Buccaneers’ press conference.
Smith, who played just one year in high school, accepted his only scholarship offer to play at NCCU starting with the 2012-2013 season.
“Being that I only played one year of high school football, a lot of people doubted me,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t want to take a chance on me.”
In his four-year career at NCCU, Smith had 168 solo tackles, finished sixth all-time in career tackles with 263, and 11th in passes defended with 31, including seven interceptions and 24 pass break-ups.
Smith graduated on Dec. 12, 2015 with a degree in criminal justice. Shortly after, he attended the NFL Combine.
In April, he was selected 108th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. But his selection didn’t guarantee him a permanent spot on the team. That would depend on his preseason play.
During his preseason with the Bucs, Smith had a combined seven tackles (five solo) with a total of two assists. Smith also had two kickoff returns for a total of 44 yards and a pass interception, returned for eight yards, against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“When I’m out there, it’s indescribable,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Bucs announced their active 2016 roster. Smith was one of four safeties selected for the roster. He will also return kickoffs.
“I actually like what I’ve seen from Ryan Smith,” said Tampa Bay Head Coach Dirk Koetter on the team’s website. “He’s got a burst, and he’s not afraid and he’ll hit it in there.”
In all, 26 NCCU previous players have made it to the NFL. Smith is the first Eagle in the league since Greg Peterson, who played defensive tackle for the Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars between 2007 and 2009.
Smith said he is motivated to seize this opportunity.
“I’m going to give it my all, so I know for a fact I’m going to be a major part for this team,” Smith said. “I’m going to do everything I can to help them.”
During the preseason Smith suffered a hand injury and did not play in the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. The injury may also keep him out of Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.