Unwanted HS Player Steelers 3rd Round Pick

Charlotte DE Alex Highsmith 3rd in FBS in sacks

Jeff Hathhorn
April 25, 2020 - 1:17 am
Alex Highsmith at combine

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (93.7 the Fan) – When he came out of high school in Wilmington, NC, Alex Highsmith had zero offers to play division one, FBS football.

He ended up as a walk-on with the Charlotte football team, a school that didn’t start football until 2013 and joined the FBS in 2015.

Highsmith was helped by the son of a rival high school coach who was a graduate assistant at Charlotte, gradually he climbed from one sack as a freshman to two as a sophomore and then three as a junior, but 18.5 tackles for loss and then his senior year, the explosion.

The 6’3”, 244 pound Highsmith became the school’s first AP All-American, a third team selection, after 15 sacks (3rd in FBS) and 21.5 tackles for loss (2nd in FBS).

“What he did as a walk-on,” said Steelers GM Kevin Colbert who drafted Highsmith in the third round Friday night.  “That was a special teams standout as a young player, to end up putting up the stats he had this season.  We don’t think this kid is anywhere near where he might be somewhere down the road.”

“It’s obvious he’s a technician,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said.  “He studies the rush element of play.  He took a significant step in 2019 in terms of developing his rush repertoire and I think it was obviously beneficial in terms of his production.” 

“It is reasonable to expect that growth and understanding in analyzing what he does and how he produces play to continue even as he takes a step to this level of play.”

While Colbert said it is his intention to sign Bud Dupree to a long-term deal after his franchise tag is played out after the 2020 season, it’s fair to assume they also hope Highsmith could be the answer if Dupree goes elsewhere.

“The interview with Coach Tomlin and Mr. Colbert, they talked to me about being a special teams player this year and that guy behind Dupree and Watt,” Highsmith said.  “I’m just so excited to be able to learn from those two guys.  Two of the best pass-rushers in the league.  I’m just ready to soak up everything like a sponge.”

Colbert said they noticed Highsmith at the East-West All-Star game practices, that he was long, fast and athletic.  Tomlin said he enjoyed his conversations about football with Highsmith, saying he is a football junkie.

A defensive end the last two years in college, Highsmith will have to transition to outside linebacker

“I’m ready for the challenge,” Highsmith said.  “Me being from a smaller school, some of my best games have been against the top five teams we’ve played.  I’m excited for the transition.  I will do whatever I can to be the hardest worker on the team.”

Colbert said this won’t be a redshirt year for Highsmith, they expect him to contribute against improving divisional competition.

“Alex gives us quality depth where you need quality rush men,” Tomlin said.  “We now have three Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks in the AFC North.  We gotta employ people to hunt those guys.  Hopefully he will aid us in that regard.”

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