“I really felt like I belonged there...” Charlie Smyth hoping for NFL call after impressing at Combine

Down and Mayobridge goalkeeper Charlie swaps classroom for American Football dream

Charlie Smyth made 12 out of 16 kicks at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last weekend
Charlie Smyth made 12 out of 16 kicks at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last weekend

HE told his class just to call him ‘Charlie’ and, by all accounts, Charlie Smyth made a very good impression on the kids at St Patrick’s College in Banbridge when he was there for teaching practice in February.

Just a few weeks later, he is hoping for a call from one of the 32 teams in America’s National Football League (NFL) – and there are whispers of genuine interest from a few of them – who watched him kicking field goals at last weekend’s ‘Scouting Combine’ in Indianapolis.

Mayobridge native Smyth performed brilliantly at the Combine. He kicked 16 balls on Sunday night and a dozen of them flew high and handsome through the uprights at the Lucas Oil Stadium. At one stage he had kicked eight in-a-row and, although he has nailed longer kicks in practice, his 75 per cent accuracy rate and his composure and ability to deliver on “the biggest stage” of his life augurs well for his chances of landing a lucrative contract as a kicker in the NFL.

To do that would be a remarkable achievement for the 22-year-old former Down goalkeeper who is still officially a student at St Mary’s University College. He won’t be attending any lectures until next month (if ever again) because he, Monaghan’s Rory Beggan and Wicklow’s Mark Jackson (who both landed an impressive 11 out of 16 at the Combine) have been told to stay put at the IMG Sports Academy in Florida and work on their game until the end of this month.

Staying on the other side of the Atlantic doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get the call but it does mean that, if they do, they’re in a better position to act on it, Smyth explained.

“We thought we were going home after the Combine, but then we heard we’ve another four weeks’ out here,” he said.

“It is a promising sign, it shows that we have kicked well and the teams have been saying: ‘Keep them over here’. If there is any interest from a team that would have called us at home anyway but if you went home and got a call then you’d have to come back out and maybe need three or four flights to get to wherever you had to go. It makes more sense for us to stay here.”

Charlie Smyth on the "biggest stage of his life" at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis
Charlie Smyth on the "biggest stage of his life" at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis

Smyth nailed some monster kicks from distance in training for the Combine. He travelled to Indianapolis with the backing and confidence of coach Tadhg Leader and James Cook, the head of the International Player Pathway (IPP), but stepping out into the cavernous Lucas Oil Arena in front of the expert eyes of the NFL scouts is another matter.

Smyth stood up to the pressure and was delighted with his performance.

“I know I can do it and I proved that on Sunday and that’s the thing I was most pleased about,” he said.

“I proved to myself that, on the biggest stage of my life, I could perform well. My mind was clear on all my kicks and that’s testament to the work that we’ve done over the last couple of months and the mental preparation as well.

“When you know you can do it and you have a coach like Tadhg who believes in you it gives you that confidence. We have a thing called ‘the evidence wall’ and that’s based on all the distances we’ve kicked in training so we can see we can do it and it (the Combine) was just about going out and delivering.

“I know I can kick a lot better and I have kicked a lot better but it was the fact that I walked into that stadium and I really felt like I owned the moment. I was up against these brilliant kickers, going toe-to-toe with them and at one stage I hit eight in-a-row. I scored with every kick from 50 yards and in and that would catch an eye.”

Rory Beggan
Rory Beggan, with Mark Jackson, Darragh Leader and Charlie Smyth at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis

HE missed from the 55-yard line and his 60-yarder drifted inches wide but 12 successful kicks out of 16 was the same score as one of his American rivals who was the kicker in the National Championship (College Football) game this year.

“I know there’s a whole lot more in me,” said Smyth.

“I was there and I really felt like I belonged there and I have kicked better but hopefully teams have seen what I can do. I have been hearing whispers of things but nothing concrete yet.

Before they took the field last Sunday evening the trialists had two hours of round-table interviews with reps from the Packers, the Bills, the Cowboys, the Ravens... All 32 teams were there for the meet and greet, getting-to-know-you session and Smyth says that breaking the ice with the people he was hoping to impress helped to settle his nerves.

“We were going from table to table and there was maybe 10 tables and seven or eight coaches at each table all from different teams,” he explained.

“You get talking to them and you just appreciate that they’re just coaches or scouts who love football – they’re not monsters! So it’s all about going out and showing them what you can do and if you’re good enough they’ll be interested.

“For me it was all about locking-in and forgetting about everything else. Once I did that and got into a rhythm then you take a lot of confidence and you go through your kicks.

“I could have done better but, for the most part, I felt I absolutely owned every kick a took. Even when I did miss one, I followed it up well with the next kick.

“When I missed, I went back to the side, read over my notes, read the evidence wall and just reset and got ready to go again.

“My favourite stat of it all was that I made every kick off a live snap from 50 yards and closer which is where you live and die in the NFL. Most kickers would only have a handful of kicks a season from 50-plus yards so if you’re making all the kicks inside that 50-yard distance under pressure you’re going to turn heads and I that so that’s what I’m really happy with.”

Down goalkeeper Charlie Smyth was among the scorers as St Mary's beat ATU Sligo
Charlie Smyth was a regular scorer as the Down goalkeeper

SMYTH first came to the attention of GAA fans as the goalkeeper of Down’s Ulster U20 Championship-winning team in 2020. He scored in every game of the campaign that ended at the All-Ireland semi-final stage – nine points in all and all of them from long-range frees or 45s.

It’s a surprise when he explains he was something of a late developer in the GAA. He wasn’t a regular at school at St Colman’s College, he didn’t play for Down minors and only made it onto his county team because of his own determination to become an expert free-taker. Day after day he was on the pitch at his native Mayobridge and he made kick after kick adding distance and accuracy as he went along.

He wasn’t a regular in the Down senior team last year so he knows about being left out and overlooked but he feels the setbacks that he experienced along the way helped him to concentrate on the subtle art of place-kicking and that has brought him to where he is today.

“Growing up I didn’t play a whole pile of football at the top level,” he said.

I never really played for St Colman’s until the MacRory Cup team, I never represented Down until I was 19-20…

“The change for me was when I really honed in on taking kicks off the ground. I worked so hard at it up at the club and that’s the reason I’m here.

“I always had belief in myself but I wasn’t playing all the time at school or whatever. I’m very grateful that I didn’t play all that much underage and minor football because that gave me time to focus on taking frees and I just feel the work I did in that period of time is the reason I’m here.

“From the age of 14-15 I was religiously practising taking frees off the ground, I was working on that skill and that’s why I have the kick I have and why I’m hopefully heading towards the NFL.

“I  feel like everything happens for a reason and it’s been great to have the support from back home. St Colman’s and Mayobridge have been very supportive and St Mary’s have too – they’ve told me to take my time, not worry about the assignments and focus on making the most of this opportunity. I’ve heard from ‘Lav’ (Down manager Conor Laverty) wishing me well… I feel like everybody at home wants me to succeed and that means a lot to me.”