Former College Basketball Player Malik Smith Impressed NFL Personnel At Ohio State’s Pro Day – Sports Illustrated

While the 10 former Ohio State players participating in Wednesday’s Pro Day received a bulk of the attention, there was an unknown prospect taking part in drills in an effort to impress the more than 100 NFL general managers, coaches and scouts in attendance.

Malik Smith, the older brother of former Buckeyes defensive end Tyreke Smith, made the transition from college basketball player to tight end this offseason, training with former Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley in hopes of making it to the league. 

It’s not an unusual path, either, as some of the greatest players in NFL history exclusively played college basketball, including former San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates

“It’s been a dream come true,” Smith said after his workout. “Being able to go through this journey and learn, grow and do this with my brother, not many people get to do that. Ever since I started, he’s been there with me, hip to hip, so just being able to elevate with him has been amazing. It’s been a true blessing. I can’t thank God enough for it.”

The 6-foot-6 and 265-pound Smith has not played organized football since Pop Warner, as he gravitated to basketball instead. His size and overall athleticism helped him become a star at Cleveland Heights and earn a scholarship to UNC Asheville, where he appeared in 19 games as a true freshman in 2016-17.

“Basketball was just my first passion,” Smith said. “I was just so good at it, it was my first love and my parents played basketball in college (at Point Park University in Pittsburgh). It was just in my blood and I just started getting so many offers in basketball that I just needed to focus on what was going to help me get to school and pay for school at the time.”

College basketball wasn’t quite what Smith expected, though. He struggled with his mental health and questioned each day whether or not he wanted to continue to play the game he loved.

Wondering if he simply needed a change of scenery, Smith transferred to Bryant University and was forced to sit out one season due to NCAA rules. But then head coach Tim O’Shea retired later that year, which threw him into an internal tailspin, and he left school without playing a single minute for the Bulldogs.

Smith ultimately ended up at Fisk University in Nashville, where he finished his basketball career under the direction of 15-year NBA veteran Kenny Anderson. He was finally himself again at a school he loved and in a program where he felt appreciated.

“Everything I went through with that, all of the lessons that I learned, all prepared me for this moment,” Smith said. “God puts thing in our past that you may not understand at the time, but you know, it’s a plan. I just stuck to the plan and when one door closed, another opened.”

Given his mental health struggles, Smith – who grew up an Ohio State fan – was encouraged to see the message that former offensive lineman Harry Miller shared upon his recent retirement. In fact, it drove him to tears, knowing their paths were so similar.

“Understanding the pain that he went through and the down times that he had, I was directly able to relate to that,” Smith said. “One day I was Malik, other days I couldn’t even recognize myself in the mirror. I was really so appreciative that we have someone like Harry Miller, who is using his platform to speak up on the issue, and I plan to do the same thing.”

That said, Smith has emerged from his situation with a new outlook on life, and Wednesday’s Pro Day was just as much a celebration of how far he’s come as it was an opportunity to further his athletic career. It was also another chance to compete alongside his brother.

“It felt like the old days, just playing together in the backyard,” Tyreke Smith said, noting the two have been training in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the last few months. “Waking up every day, just pushing each other was a blessing. Just having that person you could go train with, construct and criticize them and then at the end of the day, just have a brother there.”

The younger Smith would know as much as anyone about making the transition from basketball, as he didn’t play a snap of organized football until his junior year of high school and is now on the cusp of being selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.

“That’s why I’ve just been trying to harp on him to be efficient in everything you do,” Smith said. “Whether it’s routes, working out or these drills, everything is about timing and efficiency. You just take this process one step at a time and keep stacking good days and, eventually, you’re going to pan out.

“He’s a hard-ass worker. He’s a sponge, just willing to learn. The sky is the limit for him. He just started training for this, and you can already see the transition he’s had. The more work he puts in, the better he’s going to get. I feel like he can be a great tight end.”

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The chances of the older Smith getting drafted are low, with former Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns tight end Rico Gathers being the only player at the position to be selected without playing a down of college football – and he was only picked in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft following a stellar basketball career at Baylor.

But that’s not dissuading Smith, who believes he left everything he could on the indoor field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday.

“They should take a chance on me because I have zero film, zero college (experience) and I’m sitting here,” Smith said. “I’m a sponge. I have raw ability and am willing to learn and do anything. I’m willing teams to just take a chance on me because I know that I can be a tight end in the NFL. It’s just about learning the game of football and just being developed.”

If Smith doesn’t make it to the league, though, he’s thankful for the opportunity to participate in Ohio State’s pro day because it’s not something that many people get to experience. Not to mention, he’s close to earning his pilot’s license, which is still quite the fallback option.

“I love being a pilot,” Smith said. “I’ve been flying planes since I was about 10 years old. I want to one day open up my own flight school and teach others how to fly. Learning aviation has been a blessing to me, and I want to share it with others, too.

“It’s one of those things that not a lot of people do it, but a lot of people would love it.”

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