Former NIU cornerback not affected by lockout

By Tony Osborne

DeKALB | The NFL lockout did not seem to affect former NIU cornerback Chris Smith.

Smith was drafted in the 4th round, 17th pick overall to the Omaha Nighthawks in the 2011 draft for the United Football League, a professional football organization made up of five teams stretching across the country. Omaha Nighthawks coach Joe Moglia said he thinks highly of the rookie cornerback.

“Chris is a rookie that [Nighthakws General Manager] Rick Mueller has been raving about,” Moglia said in an interview with “He has all the tools to play the position and is a tough, feisty player. We really feel good about Chris’ ability to play pro football.”

Smith started practicing with his new team in the beginning of June.

“I was there the eighth through the twelfth [of June] with three days being two-a-days,” Smith said.

Smith explained differences in day-to-day operations between a Division I university and professional football, saying it starts with how things are organized.

“Practices are structured different,” Smith said. “The tempo in pro football is much faster, and also the terminology is a lot different, meaning a ‘cover four’ defense at NIU may not mean that it is the same ‘cover four’ defense as [Omaha’s].”

After his senior season at NIU, in which he recorded 70 tackles, three interceptions, 15 pass break-ups and 4.5 tackles for a loss, Smith was confident he would be taken in the NFL Draft, but did not end up as one of the 224 players selected.

“The lockout messed up a lot for me,” Smith said. “My agent said there were five teams that made an offer, but with the work stoppage in the NFL, he gave me the option of entering the UFL draft.”

It hasn’t all been easy for Smith. The Palmetto, Fla. native dropped out of Palmetto High School, earned his GED and went to Highland Junior College before transferring to NIU. He now plays professional football with his eyes set on the NFL.

“My mom and my grandma were my big inspirations throughout it all,” Smith said. “I wanted to quit a few times, and they told me, ‘Keep at it, don’t give up.’ And they got me through it.”

As far as on-the-field inspirations, Smith looked to Jay Sawvel, former NIU defensive backs coach and NFL great Deion Sanders.

Smith said he still has ties with NIU and his former teammates. As Smith moves from the frigid DeKalb winters to the cornfields of Nebraska, his work ethic won’t change.

“I am going to keep working hard, getting better everyday, and pursuing my goal of playing in the NFL,” Smith said.