Football

“The biggest opportunity I’ll ever get...” Down goalie Charlie Smyth chasing American Football dream

Mayobridge native hopes to be signed as a kicker at NFL Draft in Indianapolis next month

Down goalkeeper Charlie Smyth, along with the rest of the Irish athletes, impressed the NFL scouts and has earned another audience with them to potentially be invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolous
Charlie Smyth has been practising his dead-ball striking skills since the age of 10

CHARLIE Smyth will finish his placement in St Patrick’s College, Banbridge on Friday but will he ever teach another class?

Not if he can help it.

“Hopefully that’ll be my teaching done for a long time, maybe forever,” says ‘The Ranch’ student who will try out with other kicking hopefuls in American Football’s NFL Draft at Indianapolis next month.

“I think this is the biggest opportunity that I’ll ever get in my life in terms of trying to pursue a pathway to the world’s biggest league,” he adds.

“I don’t think it’ll get much bigger than that. I’m quite ambitious. Why wouldn’t I go for it? If it doesn’t work out I can come home and play my football and teach again but I’ve got an opportunity here and I’d be stupid not to go for it.

“I like to push myself and my biggest fear is going through my career and looking back with regrets and saying: ‘I didn’t do it, why didn’t I do it?’ When I retire I want to be able to say I gave my all to my athletic career.”

Being picked by one of the 32 NFL teams will transform the life of the 22-year-old from Mayobridge.

Yes, the holidays are terrific, but the start-out salary for a teacher in the North is in the region of £25,000 a year. An NFL kicker can expect to bank an average $860,000 and the best earn much – much – more than that, up to $6million more.

So Smyth is dialled in to proving that he has the tools to kick the field goals and extra points under pressure and to punt the ball deep into opposition territory with a posse of linebackers baying for his blood.

Rory Beggan, Darragh Leader, Mark Jackson, Charlie Smyth and Tadhg Leader standing on grass
Leader Kicking Can I kick it? Pictured (l-r) Rory Beggan, Darragh Leader, Mark Jackson, Charlie Smyth and coach Tadhg Leader will travel to the USA the NFL Draft next month. Picture by Leader Kicking

The kicking trials at the Draft are held on March 3 and the punting trials the day after and Irish quartet Smyth, Rory Beggan, Wicklow goalie Mark Jackson and rugby player Darragh Leader will hope to demonstrate to the astute coaches that they’ve got it in their boots, their hearts and minds to cut it at the highest level.

This journey started for Mayobridge native Smyth last year when he borrowed his mother’s car (meaning she had to miss her gym class) to drive to Dublin for a trial. A few months and a lot of hard work later, he is preparing for a shot at stardom.

“I’m training and I’m enjoying every session and obviously the ultimate goal is to get signed,” he says.

“You’re imagining yourself getting signed and you imagine being a full-time professional athlete. That’s what’s going through my head, but the main thing is to keep focussed on each session and trying to get better every day and every week.

“It’s not all just physical, there’s a mental side to kicking as well so I do a lot of work on that and having your processes for each kick. The kicking isn’t that tough but you’d be sore after a session so it’s kicking, recovery and working on the mental side as well – there’s more to it than just kicking a ball.

“It’s been great training with the other lads and learning from them. There’s a really good environment where we’re all pushing each other on and asking each other questions on how to get together.

“I definitely have the distance that the NFL guys have. We’re training three or four times’ a week, down south and we were over in Boston as well so I know I have the legs the NFL boys have. It’s just about doing it consistently with every kick – that’s where the best stand out. You have to get to that level and I feel like I’m on the path to making it.”

From the age of 10 you’d have seen him in the field at Mayobridge kicking frees off the ground. His ball-striking ability got him into the Down Ulster U20 Championship-winning side a couple of years ago and Smyth was expected to become a fixture between the sticks for the Mournemen at senior level.

“I’ve been a fan of the sport (American Football) for a long time and I thought about doing this from I was 18 and then the Down U20s happened,” he explained.

“I had my eye on becoming the Down number one and pushing myself on but it just hasn’t quite worked out that way. I had three years sitting on the panel and not playing but I did feel I was in a good place to push on this year.”

Like his teaching, his GAA career has been put on an indefinite hold as Smyth prepares to make the most of a chance of a lifetime.

“I want to make sure I prepare as best as I can so that, come the Combine, I can say to myself: ‘I’m prepared here, I’m ready for this’,” he says.

“Hopefully that will translate into a performance that will get me signed.”

For more information on the International Player Pathway program, visit https://www.nfl.com/international/player-pathway.