Former Louisville and Riverdale High standout Hakeem Smith will play in Saturday’s East-West Shrine Bowl in Florida. (Special Photo)
JONESBORO — Hakeem Smith is getting a little taste of what practices are like in the NFL, and the former Riverdale star likes it.
Smith has been in St. Petersburg, Fla., all week preparing for Saturday’s live national broadcast of the annual East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field.
Smith will play for the East squad, which is coached by the former Atlanta Falcons coach Jerry Glanville. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound strong safety as NFL draft prospect at his position. He was in contention for about three postseason defensive back honors.
But for now, Smith’s focus has been on preparing himself for a possible shot in the NFL.
“Things are going great down here,” said Smith via cellphone Thursday evening. “The coaches really want you flying to the ball. My main goal right now is to put myself in a position to get to the NFL. It is very exciting being down here. There are about 300 NFL personnel that are evaluating you.”
With so many eyes on each practice, Smith said he hasn’t felt any pressure.
“You just go out and try to do the things that you have been taught to do,” Smith said. “You really don’t pay much attention to them watching you.”
But there is plenty of time for interaction with the NFL personnel after practice and in the hotel lobby. Smith said he has spoken with several NFL teams, and a few have really shown interest. He said he has about five interviews a day with scouts and NFL representatives.
“I’m getting a pretty good vibe from them,” said Smith, who was an all-conference performer at Louisville during his career.
Smith is hoping to be the latest in a line of former Riverdale players that have had the opportunity to play professional football. Currently, former Riverdale players Cordy Glenn and Will Rackley are starting offensive linemen in the NFL.
Glenn, who starred at Georgia, was a second round draft pick (41st player overall) of the Buffalo Bills. He was a starter this past season.
Will Rackley is in his third second with the Jacksonville Jaguars after being a third-round pick out of Lehigh, a Football Championship Subdivision school in Pennsylvania. Like Smith, Rackley played in the Shrine Game, where he caught the attention of NFL scouts.
While the Senior Bowl gets more attention, because it comes a week before the annual Super Bow, the Shrine Game has a strong history of putting players in the NFL. The game is the longest-running college all-star game in the country.
Buffalo Bills safety Duke Williams Williams said in a recent appearance on the John Murphy Show in New York that Shrine Game was the key to him getting noticed.
“The Shrine game has more of the underdogs who are overlooked by teams and those guys are really hungry and they really have a chip on their shoulder and they want to prove themselves,” he said on the show. “So it’s a dog fight at the Shrine game. It was really good competing with those guys in practice and in the game and seeing their talent and comparing your talent level. It was a great experience all around.”
Smith former teammate Lavelle Westbrooks will play in the Senior Bowl next week in Mobile, Ala. Westbrooks finished his eligibility this past season at Georgia Southern.
Last month, Smith played his final college game for Louisville last month in the Russell Athletic Bowl, where the Cardinals defeated Miami. For his career, Smith had 245 tackles and four interceptions. He was named a game-day captain for the Cardinals in their bowl game in Orlando.
“It was very special having that honor in my last college game,” Smith said.
Despite not getting an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine next month, Smith said he hopes to still make an impression on scouts. He will participate in Pro Day at Louisville leading up to the draft.
“I felt I should have gotten an invitation, but I’m not too worried about that,” Smith said “I’m looking forward to going out and playing on Saturday in the Shrine Game. I’m looking forward to showcasing my talent in this game.”