While Carson Wentz fielded questions at a podium from a horde of Philadelphia reporters, his college teammate C.J. Smith sat on a stool in a mostly-empty locker room, at his temporary popup stall, scrolling through his phone.
Smith, a 5-11, 185-pound cornerback from North Dakota State, signed with the Eagles after going undrafted a month ago. And he knows if he wasn’t a college teammate of Wentz's, it wouldn’t have happened.
He just doesn’t care.
“Take it how you get it,” Smith said Tuesday at OTAs. “I’m just glad for the opportunity to be here now.”
In late March, the Eagles took a trip to Fargo, North Dakota, to get a closer look at the 6-foot-5 quarterback they would eventually take with the No. 2 overall pick. That was the trip that concluded with the now-famous dinner date between Wentz and the top-ranking decision-makers in the Eagles' organization.
But Wentz wasn’t the only player the team worked out during that trip. They also worked out left tackle Joe Haeg, who was taken in the fifth round by the Colts.
Smith was a late addition to the plan. And he must have shown the Eagles something.
Just a few days earlier at the NDSU pro day, Smith didn’t have a great 40-yard dash time (4.59), but did have a 39-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-11 broad jump and put up good times in the 20-yard shuttle (4.13) and the three-cone drill (7.0). If Smith did the same thing when the Eagles were watching, it’s easy to see why they’d be interested.
And it really didn’t bother Smith that he was just an afterthought to Wentz. In fact, he got to North Dakota State because the Bison were scouting his high school teammate, tight end Cameron Jones, who ended up playing at South Dakota State.
Now in Philly, Smith has enjoyed getting a chance to be teammates with Wentz again.
“It’s nice to have someone to talk to on a daily basis, a familiar face every day,” Smith said. “It’s definitely good. “
The two had plenty of battles in Fargo that have continued in Philly for the last few weeks. On Tuesday, though, Wentz got the better of his old teammate.
Wentz threw a ball deep down the right sideline to fellow rookie wide receiver Xavier Rush, who wrestled it away from Smith despite the close coverage.
“Yeah, he got me today,” Smith said with a smile. “I was talking to him about that earlier.”
Smith and Wentz both got to North Dakota State in 2011 as redshirt freshmen and spent the next five seasons as teammates. While Wentz’s meteoric rise into a top-two pick surprised a lot of people, Smith isn’t one of them. He remembers watching a highlight film of all the freshmen in 2011 — when he saw Wentz, he thought, “who’s that?”
“I was like ‘Wow, he’s good,’” Smith remembered. “Practicing with him and them, him having to wait to play, I already knew he was going to be great. Just seeing his work ethic throughout the four years I’ve been with him, it’s just been great.”
Wentz is the future of the Eagles. Smith’s future is far cloudier.
That’s the reality for an undrafted free agent, especially one from an FCS school on an NFL team with a plethora of young and talented defensive backs. But carving out a role is not impossible. Smith even has a success story at his disposal.
When Smith and Wentz were just arriving to Fargo, a cornerback named Marcus Williams was already a standout for the Bison. Williams was a four-year starter at North Dakota State before going undrafted in 2013. He signed with the Houston Texans after the draft and put together an impressive few months in Texas — impressive enough that it was a surprise when he was released at final cuts.
Williams latched on with the New York Jets and has become a key part of their secondary. In the last two years, he’s played in 21 games, with 11 starts. And last year, he led the team with six interceptions — one more than Darrelle Revis.
“He’s definitely one of my biggest role models,” Smith said. “I talk to him every so often for advice about how he did it. So yeah, he’s just been one of those people who inspired me throughout my whole college career and still to this day.”
For every Marcus Williams, though, there are dozens of undrafted guys who don’t work out and have to start their post-NFL careers much earlier than they’d like.
But for now, Smith is choosing to be positive. And he doesn’t care about coming from a small school.
“If people want to talk about schools and things like that, we can compete,” he said. “I think we kind of have a chip on our shoulder. But once you get to the NFL, nobody talks about where you’re from.”
Nor how you got here.