In draft terms, Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith was a 'tweener – a player many scouts believed had first-round talent, but might not get picked in the first round. With a feeding frenzy on pass rushers throughout most of the first round, Smith knew his name would get called. He just didn't know if it would be on Thursday or Friday.
He wasn't in New York with the 26 draft prospects that attended the event at Radio City Music Hall. He was watching on TV like millions of NFL fans, with the notable exception being that he was waiting to see his own name come across the screen at his own private draft party.
Smith admitted he was hoping to go in the first round, but wasn't sure if it was going to happen. He braced himself not to get his hopes too high and potentially have them dashed. If he didn't go on the first day of the draft, it wouldn't be the end of the world, but he was keeping his fingers crossed.
"I knew it was possible," Smith said. "I really didn't want to put too much pressure on myself, thinking ‘I have to go as high as I can go,'" Smith said. "I just watched (the draft) with friends and family and just waited to see what happened. If I didn't go, no big deal – just come back the next day and watch again. I was watching and kind of just waiting."
It was clear that Smith made a strong impression on the Vikings in attendance at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., but he had no idea how deep their interest was. After getting coached for a week by the Vikings staff, he hadn't heard a word from them in the intervening months, but said he felt good about the time they had spent together and it paid off.
"I guess it went well down there," Smith said. "I really liked playing for those guys and took to their coaching. We got a good feel for each other."
One of the strengths of Smith's game is his adaptability. As a junior, he had seven interceptions, playing primarily at free safety. He had none as a senior, but it was due to scheme as much as anything else. He was asked to play in the box and take on tight ends, but he said the learning experience from both positions will help him greatly as he transitions to the NFL.
"It was really both," Smith said of playing different safety roles. "I ended up coming down in the box, covering tight ends and then also playing the pass deep down the field. It was really a strong safety type role and a free safety type role."
One of his greatest achievements – and one of his hallmarks of his game – was twice being named a team captain. At a storied school like Notre Dame, very few players, even great ones, were captains, much less being named a captain twice. Smith said that honor will stick with him for the rest of his life because of what it represents.
"It's that sense of pride that I have for this school, for the guys that I played with and the guys that coached me," Smith said. "It means a lot to me and it's a great honor for the players to have that much confidence in me to vote me captain."
As he sat and waited (somewhat) patiently for the first round to unfold, Smith didn't know if he was going to be a member of an NFL team when he went to bed Thursday night – much less if it would be with the Vikings, who had made no contact with him since Senior Bowl week. He wakes up Friday as the newest member of the Minnesota Vikings, realizing that his hard work paid off and that the impression made on the coaching staff in late January carried over into late April.
"I thought I played well and did a good job and tried to do what they wanted me to do, but they never said anything about that they were going to draft me," Smith said. "There were a lot of good players down there. I think it was just trying to get to know each other well and, at the end of the day, I think they think I'm a good fit for them – and I 100 percent agree."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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