For most potential draftees, the bench press is just another obstacle at the NFL scouting combine, one of many to worry about as teams thoroughly evaluate them up and down.
But for Auburn guard Braden Smith — a graduate of Olathe South High School — the bench press was hardly anything to stress over, and not just because of his prodigious strength.
Smith, who put up an impressive 35 reps of 225 pounds — tied for second-most among offensive linemen — also attached a charitable goal to the cause. Before the combine, he solicited pledges for every rep and raised $3,294.
“I wish I could have gotten more,” Smith said, “but I reached my goal, and it’s going toward a good cause. There was different types of donations we could have done, but we reached the goal of $3,000 dollars.”
Smith said he got the idea from his agent weeks ago.
“It was something I could do to give back, while also doing the combine — it was kind of a win-win,” Smith said.
Smith chose Autism Speaks because of his history working with kids at Sunnyside Elementary in Olathe.
“We had this little program at our school where we’d work with people with autism, get them accustomed,” Smith said. “Kids don’t quite know how to handle situations, so just kind of being there for them, giving them someone to talk to . . . it’s something I enjoyed when I was young.”
Considering the cause — and Smith’s history of lifting massive amounts of weight — it shouldn’t have come as a surprise Smith crushed this portion of the combine.
“Once you get up there, you’re in the zone,” Smith said. “You really don’t notice anything. It’s kind of like being on a football field. Once you’re playing, active, everything’s blocked out. You’re zoned in to what you gotta do.”
The performance was a part of a solid combine showing that likely solidified Smith’s status as a second-to-fourth-round pick. He has many of the traits NFL teams look for in interior offensive linemen, including size — he possesses a barrel-chested frame and checked in at an impressive 6 feet 6 and 303 pounds — and athleticism, as he also posted top marks for his position in the vertical jump (33 1/2 inches) and broad jump (113 inches).
Throw in his outstanding durability, as he played in 13 games as a freshman in the rough-and-tumble Southeastern Conference and has started his last 41 outings, and power — as evidenced by his bench-press performance.
“I was shooting for 40 (reps), trying to aim high,” Smith said.
Smith said he’s met with a number of teams at the combine, even though he wasn’t sure if they formal or not.
“Just kind of give them an insight on my personality,” Smith said. “The stigma is, I’m a quiet guy. I don’t really let people in. Something like that. So let them know my personality, let them know the other side of me, basically.”
Smith has also tried to allay any fears of NFL teams about his pass blocking, which is something past Tigers have struggled with in the NFL because of coach Gus Malzahn’s run-heavy system.
“Well, it helped out this year we had a little more of a passing game, we had a little more chance to show that off,” Smith said. “It’s just basically the player’s attitude and willingness to be a piece of clay and let the coach mold you and how much hard work you’re going to put in to really develop into the player you want to be.”
Smith, by the way, also made it clear he’s dedicated to do whatever it takes to get better.
“I don’t think it’s so much about the offense, I think it’s about the player willing to adapt to a new offense,” Smith said. “You can take someone that’s played in a spread offense and go to the NFL. Everybody’s good there. It’s just how you adapt and take the coaching.”
Provided he does that, there’s little standing in Smith’s way as it relates to becoming a good player. And if that indeed proves to be the case, his combine performance — highlighted by his impressive, money-raising effort on the bench press, will be remembered as a jumping-off point.
“That’s the cool aspect, going down as one of the tops (reppers on the bench),” Smith said. “I wish I could have done more, but I helped the foundation today and set myself up pretty good.”