Tackling the NFL
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He started the last Saturday of November listening to Boosie Badazz and saying a prayer with his grandmother and ended the day hanging up his No. 77 Green Wave jersey for the last time.
The next time he enters a locker room and hypes himself up for a game, former Tulane defensive tackle Tanzel Smart will do it for the NFL.
The Baton Rouge native played in 48 career games with 36 consecutive starts in his four years with the Green Wave. He was a standout player this past season in the 2017 Reese’s Senior Bowl, the 46th player in school history to represent Tulane in the event.
Smart began his football career when he was seven years old and said he never regretted his decision to step onto the field that first day at his mother’s persuading.
“She didn’t put me into it, but she wanted me to do it,” Smart said. “I was already a fat kid, and I liked tackling people, and that’s why I started playing.”
From little league to Tulane and now beyond, the love Smart has developed for football has only grown. Football did more than provide him with physical release; it provided him the opportunity to get a degree in computing with a minor in public health.
The hard work, 6:30 a.m. wake up calls and two-a-day workouts were a lot to balance with his social life, but Smart never let the stress stop him from grinding.
Fifteen years later, the once fat kid who liked to tackle is a projected 4th round pick in the 82nd NFL draft Apr. 27-29 in Philadelphia.
“[Draft day] will be one of the craziest days of my life,” Smart said. “I’m praying for that day, and I think it’s a blessing. I would love that. I’m sure you all would be happy, and the Tulane family would be happy for me, and I can’t wait to hear [my name].”
Though he has no clue what colors he will be representing, or if Louisiana will remain his home, he remains optimistic of all that is to come.
“It’s a true blessing that I am about to go on this journey and continue,” Smart said. “It doesn’t really matter what team. Anybody that wants me, I want them.”
There is, however, more to Smart than his 6-foot-1 and 310-pound football physique.
“[In 10 years,] I see myself owning my own [chicken] wing franchise,” Smart said. “That’s what I really want to do after my football career is over. I want a couple around the world, that is where I want to be.”
While the franchise plans are put off until the future, Smart continues to practice every day at the Orlando training camp facility he is currently at, and head coach Willie Fritz is confident that Smart will succeed in the NFL and continue to be the asset he was at Tulane.
“[Smart has] one of the better work ethics of any kid I’ve ever coached in thirty-some-odd years,” Fritz said. “[He is] tremendously dedicated to his teammates and his craft. He worked overtime — almost too much— on becoming a better player. Whatever NFL team he lands on is getting a guy who’s got an unbelievable work ethic, and I’m sure he’s had that forever.”
From having fans cheer his name to the goal of wowing people with fried chicken, Smart remains laser-focused going forward. He prepares to enter the draft comfortable in his abilities and confident in himself. He doesn’t just seek a career in football but will continue to use the sport as a molding tool for him as an individual.
“Anybody that’s going to choose me in the draft is going to get a God-fearing, hardworking young man who will have an impact on your team,” Smart said.
Four years after finding his footing within Tulane Athletics and becoming a ‘silent leader’ and stand out player, Smart’s career is only getting started.