The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Alex Highsmith as their third round pick during the 2020 NFL Draft in April. The outside linebacker out of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte should be a strong addition to an already successful Steelers defense.
Third Round Draft Pick Alex Highsmith’s Background
Highsmith grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina and fell in love with football as a child.
“I started playing football when I was about five years old. Started in flag and then played Pop Warner, Mighty Mights and all the tackle leagues,” Highsmith said to the media. “I played baseball, basketball — but football has always been my love, and my greatest sport.”
Growing up in North Carolina meant that Highsmith was a fan of the Carolina Panthers. He looked up to players like Steve Smith and Julius Peppers and hoped he could play at their level one day.
The linebacker attended Eugene Ashley High School, where he recorded 68 tackles and two forced fumbles as a junior. He was named to the first team all-Mideastern Conference following his senior season.
After only receiving offers from Davidson and Furman, Highsmith was finally noticed by UNC Charlotte, where he was given the opportunity to try out for the team.
Finding Success at UNC Charlotte
As a walk-on at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Highsmith redshirted his freshman year.
In his first season playing for the 49ers, Highsmith played in all 12 games. He also finished the year with 11 solo tackles.
Highsmith’s breakout season came when he was a redshirt junior. He reached career-high numbers in tackles and sacks. He was also named first-team all-Conference-USA by Pro Football Focus (PFF).
In 2019, Highsmith was ranked fourth in the country in sacks (14) and fifth in tackles for loss (21.5). He was also named a Burlsworth Trophy Semifinalist. Each year, this award is given to a top collegiate player who began their career as a walk-on.
“Me being a walk-on, it’s helped me increase my work ethic, helped me learn perseverance, and learn different character traits that have helped me along the way,” Highsmith told reporters.
The edge rusher holds several records for UNC Charlotte, including most sacks in a game (4.5), season (14) and career (20).
“I’m so excited to watch a guy who does everything the right way be rewarded,” UNC Charlotte head coach Will Healy said in a statement. “I couldn’t imagine someone more deserving. Our staff was lucky to have coached him for one year. He was an absolute pleasure to coach.
From Walk-On to NFL Rookie
Highsmith has all the traits to show that he could be yet another successful edge rusher on the Steelers’ defense.
However, the linebacker comes from a Conference-USA school where he often did not play against high caliber teams.
“I’m ready for the challenge,” Highsmith said. “Being from a smaller school, I didn’t get much good competition to play against, but some of my best games the past couple years were the top-five teams we played.”
— Alex Highsmith (@highsmith34) April 26, 2020
Currently, eight first-round draft picks make up the Steelers’ defense. Although Highsmith is a third-round draft pick, he has two of the NFL’s strongest outside linebackers, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, on his side.
“I’m just so excited to be able to just learn from those two guys, who are just two of the best pass-rushers in this league, so I’m just ready to step up everything,” Highsmith said.
Featured Image Courtesy of Steelers Wire
“From Our Haus to Yours“