For former Maryland linebacker Shaq Smith, the road to the 2021 NFL Draft has been very unique. Smith’s high school and college career took him from St. Frances Academy to IMG Academy (Florida) and to national powerhouse Clemson, but he eventually found his way back home in 2019 when he transferred to Maryland.

As Smith gets ready to take the next step to the pros, there’s one NFL legend that helped shape his game since his days living in Baltimore.

“I actually have a personal relationship with Ray Lewis,” Smith said on Glenn Clark Radio March 4. “Definitely took some nuggets from him and try to implement those things into my life [and] my daily grind.”

Growing up in Baltimore, Smith was lucky enough to meet the all-time Ravens great while attending St. Frances. The relationship has evolved to the point where Smith says now Lewis is “always just a phone call away” for help.

“I feel like I learned more about [Lewis] off the field from knowing him personally than I did on the field,” Smith said. “And now that I know kind of both sides what makes Ray Lewis, Ray Lewis.”

Given that both are linebackers, it is not hard to see how the two could relate to one another. In fact, at 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, Smith is close to Lewis’ height (6-foot-1) and playing weight (240 pounds).

While at St. Frances in Baltimore, Smith recorded 111 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions in 2014. He went on to continue his career at IMG Academy in 2016. A consensus four-star prospect out of IMG, Smith racked up 30 tackles, a sack and one interception at Clemson from 2017-2018. He also won two national championships, one of which came when he redshirted in 2016.

But despite all that, Smith said the opportunity to come back and play at home at the University of Maryland was something special for him.

“[I’m] definitely grateful for the opportunity to be able to come home and play in front of the fans for a year and to get to be able to have my name attached to the University of Maryland, the school right in my backyard where I’m from,” Smith said.

Smith was able to have a career year for the Terps in 2019 recording 24 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack. But unfortunately for Smith, he only played in one game in 2020. Through everything he has had to deal with in transitioning to the pros, Smith is still confident in his draft resume despite his absence from the 2020 season.

“When it comes to the things that are kind of out of my control and the draft process, I feel like I did enough for myself [and] set myself up in a good position while I was at Clemson coming to Maryland,” he said.

Smith has gotten the opportunity to showcase himself during the pre-draft process, with Maryland’s pro day having taken place March 10. Smith believes he still has a lot more to show leading up to draft night.

“I’m [very] confident in myself reaching the next level,” Smith said. “And I think the biggest thing for me to kind of hang my hat on when I talk to teams is just that I haven’t reached my full potential yet, and there’s so much more in store for me.”

Smith is not currently expected to be drafted, but his hometown Ravens need some front-seven help due to the losses of edge rushers Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue and linebacker L.J. Fort. Smith could be someone Baltimore may target in the later rounds of the draft or after the draft.

The opportunity for Smith to follow in his mentor’s Lewis’s footsteps professionally in Baltimore is something the soon-to-be 24-year-old says would be an added bonus.

“Just being able to have any opportunity in the world, let alone the Ravens and doing it in my home state, that would just be the icing on the cake,” Smith said. “… I would say it would kind of attest to my journey and my past, just to be able to come back and being able to do this at home.”

For more from Smith, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics