A popular series from last draft cycle is returning yet again at Stampede Blue. Last offseason, I interviewed over 40 prospects that could eventually be fits for the Indianapolis Colts in the 2019 NFL Draft. As a result, we were able to find out a lot about two Colts who went on to eventually be drafted by the team in Marvell Tell III and Khari Willis. This year I hope to interview even more prospects so you all can get an inside look at these player’s accomplishments and mindsets going into this next draft.
Our next prospect is defensive end Alex Highsmith from Charlotte. A former walk-on, Highsmith exploded onto the scene his Senior season. We had a great conversation about his rise from walk-on to star player, his favorite pass rush moves, and which NFL guys he studies the most to perfect his craft.
6’3” 248 pounds
40 Time: 4.7 / Vert Jump: 33 inches / Broad Jump: 125 inches
75 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, 3 pass deflections, and 2 forced fumbles.
Fit with the Colts:
The Colts have taken a lot of super athletic projects at defensive end over the years. While Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu have developed nicely, it would be nice to mix in a developed and nuanced pass rusher with that duo. Highsmith is a good athlete, not elite like those two, but he wins with his knowledge for the game, motor, and excellent hands. If Ballard wants to add more of a high floor type defensive end to this defense, Highsmith would be the perfect choice.
Late Day 2-Early Day 3
In the pile of all this free agency, the Steelers have a FaceTime meeting with Charlotte EDGE Alex Highsmith, per @ZachHicks2.— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) March 16, 2020
He’s one of my favorite mid-round guys in this EDGE class. Fit to be a 3-4 OLB with a ton of juice coming off the edge.
Alex Highsmith (@highsmith34) is the first @CharlotteFTBL player to earn All-American (3rd team).— Will Kunkel (@WillKunkelFOX46) December 17, 2019
HighSmith ranks 2nd in the NATION in sacks (14) and 4th in tackles for loss (21.5).
Highsmith set a @Charlotte49ers record with 4.5 sacks in a game.@Coach_heals | #ClubLIT pic.twitter.com/7YuJlGHBm3
ZH: Let’s go back to the beginning a bit here. You were a bit of a late bloomer in high school and missed out a bit on recruiting which led to you walking on at Charlotte. What was that like having to walk on to a program?
AH: It was a good experience for me. Ultimately I wouldn’t want it any other way because being a walk-on taught me so many things. It taught me to increase my work ethic and striving to be great and having to work for everything with that walk-on mentality. I came to Charlotte in 2015, I actually wasn’t recruited, so I didn’t get invited to camp so I went to school my Freshman year. I sent my film in to the coaches and they decided to give me a chance in 2015 and I kind of ran away with that opportunity and worked as hard as I could with that chip on my shoulder to make the team.
So yeah, it was a great part of my story and I want people to know that I was a walk-on. I went from scout team in 2016 and playing some special teams to earning a spot as a starter my Junior year in 2017. With the new staff my Senior year, I really took off. Overall though I had a great time at Charlotte and I’m going to have that walk-on mentality for the rest of my life.
ZH: You touched on it a bit there but I want to talk about your transition from walk-on to great college football player. As a Senior, you were one of the best pass rushers in the country. What did you and your coaching staff do prior to the year that led to this breakout season?
AH: I really think it was Coach Healy and his staff did a lot. They brought in Coach Marcus West from Minnesota and he taught me so many things about pass rushing that I didn’t know before. I also played a 4i the year before and this year we played more of a 4-2-5 which allowed me to be free off the edge and get vertical really helped my game. So really it was just the hiring of Coach West and the change in scheme to fit my strengths really attributed to the rise in sacks I had this past year.
ZH: You were rewarded with an invite to the Shrine week after your Senior season. How was that experience for you throughout the week?
AH: It was awesome and a great experience to show out in front of the scouts and coaches that were down there. Awesome opportunity to showcase my ability out there and I met a lot of great players and made some new friends so yeah it was just awesome and being in Tampa was great as well.
ZH: Going to your film now, I love how nuanced your game is as a pass rusher. Starting off though, what would you say is your go-to pass rush move?
AH: I would say I really have two go-to moves at the edge position which are the cross chop and the chop rip. I really like using those and the chop is more of a speed move and the cross chop really sets the tackle up. I watch a lot of NFL guys film and always watch DeMarcus Lawrence for the Cowboys and also Yannick Ngakoue fro =m the Jaguars to really perfect that move because they are two of the best at it. That has turned into one of my best moves now. Also my spin move, that is my favorite move. I like using it on inside moves you know when I get inside calls or stunt inside, I like to spin because it’s so hard to block there but those are probably my favorite moves.
ZH: So I’m curious because I never played football at near as high a level as you. When you are getting off the snap, what are you reading off the tackle to say ‘oh I can go to a cross chop here’ for example? Is there something the tackle does for you to know to use that move?
AH: That is really a move for younger guys who shoot their hands quick. When I cross chop, as you can see on film, I kind of hop through and you can watch Aaron Donald or DeMarcus Lawrence and they do the same thing where when that lineman shoots his hands quick, that is when you want to use that. If they don’t shoot their hands, then you use a push chop to hit their hands then shoot their arm down. When I would watch the tackle film on Thursday with Coach West, we would dissect the tackles to know their set and their stance and hands so watching those tackles before the week determines what moves I use in the game.
ZH: So here’s a scenario for you. In the NFL, you are going to face so many different tackle sets compared to college. How would you counter a tackle jump setting you when you initially expected a vertical set?
AH: I would probably use a wax over or even a cross chop there too. Really the wax or what some people call the side scissors is a move that I use to get their hands off me. Sometimes you can tell by the stances if they are coming to jump set you along with their eyes too so I like to look at their eyes and demeanor to help me be ready for any kind of set. The key is having a plan going into it so if they jump set me then I have a way to react and counter it. The key is having that plan though before it happens.
ZH: So you are very well versed in your film knowledge but also in your terminology of rushes and techniques. Is that something this coaching staff instilled in you your Senior year or was this more of something you always had interest in?
AH: It is definitely something that I’ve always liked to do but the Charlotte coaches helped me to love watching film a lot more. Just diving into the film with Coach West and some of the older guys when I was a Freshman really helped. It’s so important too and that is really how you get an edge. Everyone is a freak athlete in the NFL so if you don’t watch film, you don’t get that advantage over your opponent or find success.
ZH: One thing that really stands out on your film is your effort level which doesn’t get talked about enough when getting sacks. Do you pride yourself in having that high effort on every play?
AH: All the coaches and scouts always ask me what the best part of my game is and besides pass rushing, I’d say my motor and effort. It does come from that walk-on mentality and I’m just going out there to help my team win games. I just take pride in running to the ball on every play and having that effort that comes from the chip on my shoulder from being a walk-on. It is something I definitely will carry on to the next level.
ZH: Final question I have for you today. What is my team getting on and off the field if they draft Alex Highsmith?
AH: Someone who brings juice, brings a positive attitude, and brings energy every day. That is something that I worked on this past year, especially with Coach Healy. Having that positive attitude and bringing passion to everything we do, not just to games. Being a guy in the locker room that others can look up to and hold others accountable is something I pride myself in doing. No matter how the year is going or what is happening, I’ll always be the same player with the same attitude and energy in the locker room.