CHARLOTTE — Linebacker Brandon Smith didn't immediately realize all of the connections between the Panthers and Penn State, when asked on Saturday.
Smith, a Penn State linebacker taken by the Panthers in the fourth round (No. 120) of the NFL Draft on Saturday, rubbed his forehead and leveled with everyone listening.
"Off the top of my head, I can't really think of it right now," Smith said in response to a question about the various Panthers-Penn State ties. "My head hurts because I've been crying."
Carolina nabbed Smith by trading its two fifth-round picks to Washington for the fourth-rounder and a sixth (No. 189).
The two-year starter with the Nittany Lions knew of one fairly obvious connection between his alma mater and his new professional organization, Panthers defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, who is in his third year with the Panthers.
Gross-Matos and Smith overlapped in Happy Valley for one season in 2019, when Smith was a freshman. You'll have to forgive the 20-year if the the second connection didn't land in the emotional moments of the day. Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule is a former Penn State linebacker himself.
See photos of an emotional Smith as he got the call and found out he's coming to Carolina on Saturday.
Smith, who watched his selection from a private party in New York, said he wasn't in close contact with the Panthers during the lead-up to the draft. But he also realized anything was possible.
"The wait is over," Smith said. "I'm blessed to be a part of the Panthers organization, and I'm just ready to get to work."
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Smith runs well for a man his size (4.52-second 40-yard dash), 37 1/2-inch vertical, and has the kind of athleticism they're looking for.
Smith made a methodical climb up the Penn State depth charts, going from a five-star prospect to freshman reserve to lean-on starter.
He started the Nittany Lions' last 21 games, registering 132 total tackles during that span. Smith dropped back to grab one interception during the 2020 season, then registered five pass breakups the following season.
Smith notched ten total tackles in a 28-20 Penn State victory against Auburn, one of his five games last season with eight tackles or more.
The linebacker was a journalism major with a dream to become an FBI agent. Those aspirations will go on hold for now with a stop in Charlotte.
"I'm still shaking," Smith said, "but overall, I'm glad to be a Panther, proud to be a Panther, and I'm ready to get started."
An All-Big Ten selection in 2021, Smith was picked in the fourth round (120th overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft by Carolina.