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A surreal day for Highsmith

Leading up to the 2024 NFL Draft, Steelers players will be sharing their Draft Day Memories, from the time they went to the NFL Scouting Combine, through the moment they were drafted. In this installment, linebacker Alex Highsmith gives his take.

Alex Highsmith - 2020 NFL Draft - 3rd Round

For me, going to the NFL Combine was a dream come true. Growing up, watching the combine my whole life, I've seen guys run the forty and stuff like that. It is crazy how much goes into the combine. Just how much goes into it really is a bit of a surprise. I knew it was a lot but the meetings and all the medicals and stuff like that. I didn't know that much went into it. It's more than just that day. A lot of people don't know that we're there the whole week with medicals, media interviews, interviews with coaches and teams and stuff like that. It was a really cool process and I enjoyed it. I wanted to make the most of it. I still remember it was one of the most nervous moments of my life when I was out there running the 40-yard dash, waiting there at the line and my heart was racing and it's super quiet. No one's talking. Your friends and family are watching it on television.

I think I made the most of it. It was a cool experience. I was putting my best foot forward, doing what I needed to do. You are nervous having all those coaches, general managers and scouts watch you. All I could do was go out there and do my best. I felt like I did that.

For the 40-yard dash, they don't show the time in there. I thought you would be able to see the time because you see a lot of guys looking up. What you do is you run and then go back to your phone. I ran it. I was just anxious walking all the way back to my phone. I opened it up and everyone's like good job, good job. So that was definitely an anxious moment, waiting to see what I did, what I got. My second one was a little slower. But it was still a pretty wild moment.

The interview process at the combine is different. My IQ of the game is really strong, and I am good mentally and in the playbook. That helps guys who know football. They can take advantage of the interviews and impress coaches how they talk ball. Some of the interviews are crazy. You do some one-on-one interviews with position coaches. Then there are group interviews with the head coach and assistant coaches and general manager. Those are the ones that you are definitely more nervous for. Everyone's in the room and talking to you. If you just act professional and be yourself, that's what they want to see. They want to see if you love the game. Be yourself, not try to be someone that you're not.

Take a look at photographs of Steelers LB Alex Highsmith from the 2022 season

I didn't interview with the Steelers at the combine. The first meeting with them was after covid hit. It was a zoom meeting with Coach (Mike) Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. It was cool and a full circle moment for me. I was always a fan of Coach Tomlin and getting on the phone with him was super cool.

Covid did have an impact on my pro day. It was canceled because of it. I'm thankful I did have a good combine that helped me to show something to a lot of people, what I was capable of. It stunk having pro days and everything canceled because I felt like I could have run even better in the forty. I hated it too for guys that didn't go to the combine that year. They didn't get their shot at a pro day. I know that was really devastating.

Without the pro day, I just made the most of the zoom meetings. I couldn't visit any teams in person. I'm pretty sure I was scheduled to go visit Pittsburgh, have an official visit with the Steelers. I was just locked in and focused on the zoom meetings because that's the only thing they could do. They couldn't come visit us. None of that was permitted. Just straight zoom calls.

It was disappointing not getting to visit the teams. I was looking forward to that. At the end of the day, it all worked out. I ended up where I wanted to be. The Steelers were one of the teams that I wanted to go to, knowing the outside linebackers have thrived here and just the history of them. Definitely wanted to visit some of those teams. But like I said, it all worked out.

Draft day was amazing. It was a smaller group we had gathered because of the circumstances. I wanted to have about 30 some people there, honestly. But because of covid that didn't happen. Watched the first night of the draft. The second night, that is when I knew I was going to get drafted. That's when everybody was there, my wife, parents, sister, her husband, my best friends. We had a couple of zoom calls going. I had a zoom call on my laptop with some other really good friends and teammates from college. My dad hooked up a zoom to the TV so all his family members, my mom's family and so on could be with us. A lot of people were still there, but they weren't there in person. It was still crazy.

I think it was around 11-11:30 that night by the time the third round ended. That was a long night. I was taken near the end, one of the compensatory picks, so it was really a long night. I was getting really tired towards the end and I saw Pittsburgh coming up. It's funny because one of my friends, the one who gave me the crazy Steelers hat, he tweeted Pick 102 with the eyes emoji before it even happened. He called it before it happened. Pittsburgh called me like 10 minutes before the actual pick happened. It was Philadelphia and then Pittsburgh was next. I got a call from Pennsylvania, and I didn't know where Cranberry Township was at the time. I didn't know that was close to Pittsburgh. It was a 412 area code, and I got the call and Coach Tomlin comes on the line, and Mr. (Art) Rooney. I can't remember what I said. I probably just kept saying thank you so much. I was just so excited. It was a day I will never forget. It was surreal. It's another thing growing up your dream coming true. I always wanted to hear my name get called by (NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell and hear that music and everything. It was a surreal moment. I dreamt of it for a long time and to see if come true was awesome.