Minnesota move ‘just another extension’ of experiences at Sacred Heart, Knox Catholic, Notre Dame
Knoxville Catholic High School and University of Notre Dame graduate Harrison Smith is now a Minnesota Viking after the NFL team drafted him April 26 as the 29th overall pick in the first round.
Getting the phone call from an NFL team on draft day “is something you’ve been waiting on for so long and working hard to get to,” Mr. Smith said in an April 30 interview in Knoxville. “But it’s not the end goal—it’s really the beginning.”
Mr. Smith captained the Notre Dame defense as a senior. As a junior, he recorded 93 tackles and seven interceptions. He made three interceptions in the 2010 Sun Bowl against Miami after picking off a pass against USC to seal a win in the season finale.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in management-entrepreneurship and was accepted into the university’s graduate management-entrepreneurship program.
Mr. Smith won a state decathlon championship at KCHS and earned all-state and Mr. Football awards as a running back and safety. He was a Gatorade Player of the Year in Tennessee for 2006. He scored 25 touchdowns rushing and receiving his senior season in high school and starred on defense.
Mr. Smith attended Sacred Heart Cathedral School from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“Starting here at Sacred Heart, just being around a group of people who care about your well-being and care about your education, then kind of playing with that same group of guys all the way up to Catholic (High), you kind of build a bond. You play off one another and work with one another,” he said.
Mr. Smith’s NFL draft party was at his parents’ house in Knoxville.
“There was a bunch of friends and family around,” he said. “It was pretty funny—the Packers were making their pick on TV, and they hadn’t announced it yet, so I’m on the phone and everyone around me thinks I’m going to the Packers. Then the Ravens have the next pick, so after the Packers picked and it wasn’t me, they thought I was going to the Ravens. I was on the phone with the Vikings, and they’re all yelling in the background, and they figured out I was a Viking, so it was kind of funny.”
Minnesota made a couple of deals in order to be in position to pick Mr. Smith.
“They had the third pick overall,” he said, “and they traded back to the fourth and got a fourth-rounder for that, then traded that plus their 35th pick to get up to 29, and they took me at 29.”
The Vikings’ trading up to pick him was an honor, Mr. Smith said.
“It just shows how confident they are in me to come in and do a good job there,” he said. “I’m just glad to be on a team that really wants me and I’m excited to play for.”
Thirty-two teams pick in the first round of the draft. Mr. Smith said he heard that he might be picked anywhere from 20th overall to 40th. He added that he didn’t want to dwell on exactly when “because I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on myself.”
Mr. Smith is a son of Dr. Steven and Susan Smith of Sacred Heart Parish. He has two older siblings, Garrett and Natalie, and a younger brother, Stuart.
“My mom and dad are definitely the most influential people in my life,” Mr. Smith said. “I didn’t realize it until I got older, but I see how they go about their daily lives, how they interact with one another, how they raised all of us kids, and just the care that they have for us and what they’ve done for all of us just to kind of help us along our path—I really look up to them and watch how they go about their business.”
Stuart Smith, a member of the KCHS football team, also plays safety. Mr. Smith said he didn’t know whether Stuart would follow in his footsteps.
“I don’t know exactly what he wants to do, but it’s fun to watch him. He plays golf, too, so it’s fun watching him golf and play football, too.”
Mr. Smith said he enjoys playing safety because “you get to do everything.”
“You do a mix of whatever everyone else gets to do. So when the linebackers are up close to the line, every now and then I’ll be up there close with them. The corners are always covering, and I get to do that some. You get to be up, you get to be back, you get to blitz, you get to play man-to-man—you get to do pretty much every job.”
His Notre Dame experience prepared him well, Mr. Smith said.
“Just moving to a new place far away from the family and doing everything on your own for the first time—I think is good and it lets you grow as a person and figure out who you are. Then also, it’s just another extension of Catholic school: Sacred Heart, Catholic High, and then Notre Dame.
“At Notre Dame, it’s such a national stage, and there’s always so many eyes on you. When you go to practice, everything has to be like a game because there are so many cameras there and everybody’s always judging you, so you have to be aware of that. Also, just interacting with people and doing interviews—it definitely has made me open up more as a person and be more outgoing, so [being at Notre Dame] helped me a lot and really prepared me.”
His Notre Dame career also readied him for starting in the NFL, Mr. Smith said. “But at the same time, nothing can completely prepare you for the NFL. Week in, week out, you’re playing the best competition.”
Mr. Smith said that the Vikings and he “haven’t really talked about” whether he would be a starter to begin the football season.
“I know when you get drafted in the first round, they want you to come in and play, but to me it’s really just about coming in and competing and letting it go from there and letting me show I was worthy of where they took me.”
His primary goal is to “work hard,” he said. “I do want to be on the field making plays. I don’t know exactly what role that’s going to be in, but I want to be out there, and I want to be helping the Vikings win.”
Mr. Smith played for the North team in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 28. The North team was coached by the Vikings’ staff, including head coach Leslie Frazier, defensive coordinator Alan Williams, and defensive backs coach Joe Woods.
Mr. Smith said he didn’t realize at the time what a good impression he had made on the Minnesota coaches.
“They really didn’t talk to me all that much after the Senior Bowl. I didn’t think about it too much, but being able to play for Coach Frazier and Coach Williams and Coach Woods—they all got a good feel for me as a player and what I’d be like day in and day out, and that’s what they said really sold them on me.”
Mr. Smith said he has already looked at the Vikings’ schedule and the opposing receivers and quarterbacks he’ll be facing. “I’ll be playing Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Aaron Rodgers—every week you’re playing Pro Bowl talent,” he said. “I’m not intimidated. I’m really kind of excited to measure myself against those guys and go make plays against them.” n