Donovan Smith stood atop the football recruit world. Coming out of Owings Mills High School in Maryland, Smith was a four-star offensive tackle recruit on Rivals.com, played in the 2011 U.S. Army All-American Bowl and committed to Penn State.
But then, while redshirting in 2011, Smith watched the Jerry Sandusky scandal unfold around him. Coach Joe Paterno was fired and passed away shortly after. Bill O'Brien was hired, coached two bowl-ineligible seasons, then bolted for the Houston Texans. James Franklin came in for Smith's final season.
Asked what his unique Penn State experience taught him, Smith had to chuckle.
"Oh, man, a lot," he said "How to deal with adversity. Not a lot of people other than the guys in the locker room can say they have been through what we have been through. It groomed us into the men we are today. It teaches us about integrity and loyalty, because you know, we could have jumped ship without any penalty, but we wanted to stay committed to the university and the fans."
Smith, who leaves Penn State with one year of eligibility on the table, said he got all he wanted to out of college football and felt he was ready for the jump for the pros. He was selected 34th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night.
Smith also got everything he could out of his undergrad life at Penn State, academically. Following the original guidance Paterno provided to him, Smith has a Penn State degree.
"One thing the late Joe Paterno told me was to graduate in three and a half years," Smith said. "That would be the best thing you could do. So going in, that's what I did. I pushed. I was taking four courses, 18 credits -- more than the 12-credit minimum. I definitely wanted to graduate in three and a half years and that's what I did. I got my degree in criminology and felt like I accomplished everything at Penn State and wanted to move on."
Smith stayed in touch with O'Brien as much as NCAA and NFL regulations would allow.
"We talked a little bit," Smith said. "I spoke with him down at the Combine and briefly text with him, but other than that, it was pretty much, you can't do that. I understood where he was coming from. He knew where I was coming from, and you know, it was just one of those deals."
The Texans host the Buccaneers schedule in Week 3 this season. While they may be on good professional terms, Smith is not afraid to start trash-talking.
"We are going to go in there and get the W," Smith says. "But it's definitely going to be good seeing some of the old coaches at Penn State and Bill O'Brien. It's definitely going to be an exciting game."
Smith's experiences dealing with distractions at Penn State could help him in Tampa, where media attention is expected to be heavy with the arrival of quarterback Jameis Winston, the top overalll pick. He won a national championship and went 27-1 at Florida State, but he also faced a sexual assault allegation and a civil citation for shoplifting. That is not to mention Winston was suspended for a game last season for yelling an sexually explicit phrase from a tabletop at the student union.
Smith is intrigued by the prospect of starting his career blocking for a Heisman Trophy winner.
"He knows how to win and definitely we are going to put the pieces together and be able to make me look good," Smith said. "I'm going to do my job to make sure he looks good and let us win and lead us to win. I just got to take pride in that."
From the Sandusky scandal to being fellow rookies with Jameis Winston, Donovan Smith has already traveled quite the football road.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.