Mark these dates down on behalf of Derron Smith, the former Banning High School football star who completed his collegiate career at Fresno State in December.
First, there’s Feb. 23.
If that works out, as expected, there’s April 30.
So much is riding on both of those dates.
The National Football League Scouting Combine, which will be held in Indianapolis Feb. 17-23, is a would-be pro baller’s chance to shine in front of 32 teams from coast to coast.
Smith said he started believing he had an NFL future just after his redshirt (sophomore) season, when he had six interceptions.
“That’s when I started realizing I might be able to play in the NFL,” said Smith, who turned 23 on Feb. 4.
On April 30, the first date of this year’s NFL draft, will likely include plenty of names that will try and showcase themselves in front of the most scrutinization of any time in their football-playing lives – pro scouts.
The obvious names are Heisman Trophy winners Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, not to mention a growing list of players from each position.
Smith chuckled, saying, “There are some great players in this draft. It’s nice to be part of something like this.”
He won’t be the first. Banning product Alvin Walton was a 1986 draft pick by Washington. Walton, coincidentally, also played strong safety, the same position as Smith.
“I’ve met him once – briefly,” said Smith. “We didn’t have time to sit down and talk. It would be nice, though.”
Smith is hoping that a strong career at Fresno State – 15 interceptions, 304 total tackles, 18 pass breakups and savvy secondary play over 56 collegiate games – will result in a chance to play on one of those 32 teams.
There are the obvious names – Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and USC’s Leonard Williams – but there are plenty of not-so-obvious names. Considering the huge play of New England’s Malcolm Butler, an undrafted free agent cornerback from West Alabama, a roar from unheralded defensive backs across the country, every secondary player across America had to notice.
Smith was one who noticed.
“I’ll be honest,” said Smith. “I was rooting for the Seahawks in that game. I was surprised. Shocked to see that play. The receiver tried to pick (Butler) off on that play and he got a good jam and made a play.”
One thing is for certain. Butler wasn’t on anyone’s mock draft list as he was coming out of West Alabama University.
“I try not to pay attention to (the mock drafts),” said Smith, who said friends tend to let him know what the mock drafts say about him. “It doesn’t matter, whatever (the mock drafts) say. In the whole process, people talk good about you and people talk bad about you.
“You can’t let either one get inside your head.”
Smith, who signed with Rep 1 Sports, an agency based out of Irvine, is underwriting all of Smith’s current expenses – car rental, condo, food, nutritionist, plus weekly stipend. He didn’t play, as expected, in the Senior Bowl last month due to sports hernia surgery. He had played virtually his entire senior season with that injury, which curtailed some of his play.
An agent can’t improve his NFL draft fortunes, he said. “It’s up to the player to put in the work, but an agent can’t get you from a sixth round grade to a first round grade.”
He’s nearly at 100 percent. Smith said he can do all the lifts, run in a straight line, do any required jumps. It’s the side-to-side, lateral movements that he might be having difficulty with at present. Whatever the case, Smith says he’ll be in Indianapolis later this month.
Safeties will perform at the NFL combine on the final day, Feb. 23 – it goes in order by positions, with DBs being last in the rotation. Part of the process is an interview
On April 30, the first day of the seven-round, 224-player draft, Smith will be near the telephone awaiting a call. “I haven’t decided where I’ll be (on draft day),” he said. “I might be at home with my family.”
There are NFL teams that have needs at safety, namely Pittsburgh, New York Giants, Kansas City, Chicago and Washington, to name a few, according to various sports resources, including mock draft sites.
Former Fresno State teammate Philip Thomas, a 2013 draft selection by Washington, told Smith he was good enough to make an NFL team when he was pondering the idea of leaving college after his junior season.
“Philip told me I had the ball skills and the mental aspect,” said Smith, “but I felt like I needed another year. I’m glad I waited.”