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Kicker Charlie Smyth received NFL reply he sought from New Orleans Saints

'Now it's just about getting a starting spot. That's what I want, that's what I'm here for'

Kicker Charlie Smyth of Ireland runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine, Sunday, March 3, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Kicker Charlie Smyth of Ireland runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine, Sunday, March 3, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Five years later, Charlie Smythhas his answer.

In 2019, the 17-year-old Smyth wrote an email to express his interest in kicking in the NFL. He didn't really know whom to address it to, so he saw and hit "send."

And then, the native of Newry, Ireland, waited for an answer that didn't immediately come, though he was tagged by NFL UK, which bills itself as the "NFL's British Cousin."

Last Friday, Smyth's patience and talent led to an answer that was as much dream as reality, when the New Orleans Saints signed the 22-year-old to a three-year contract, as Smyth became the first Irish player to sign with an NFL team via the NFL's International Player Pathway program. This year, 2024, was the first year specialists were included in the program.

"I've always watched the Red Zone and I've always watched the NFL growing up," said Smyth, who grew up playing Gaelic football and was goalkeeper for Down GAA's U20 team. "Just watching the kickers, I was thinking, 'I can do this.' Now it's just about getting a starting spot. That's what I want, that's what I'm here for."

Smyth described Gaelic football as a mix between soccer and rugby, and honed his skills kicking the ball directly off the pitch.

"It's crazy that you send an email and you're in Ireland, there's no real pathway to go to the NFL unless you go the college route. How do you even get into the college route if you're in Ireland, know what I mean? It's a crazy process to go from sending that email to being in this situation that I'm in right now."

New Orleans has an incumbent kicker, Blake Grupe, set to enter his second season after making 30 of 37 field-goal attempts as a rookie, with a long of 55 yards.

And Smyth, who first kicked an American football on Aug. 22, 2023, understands the work it will encompass to be an NFL kicker for the Saints, or another team. But he said he's comfortable with a range up to 65 yards, he made 12 of 16 attempts at the NFL Combine and eight of 10 during pro day at the University of South Florida, and looks forward to representing Ireland in the NFL while setting an example for the youth there.

He survived a pressurized tryout to enter IPP, beginning in October 2023.

"I started to do a wee bit of training with (NFL International kicking/punting coach) Tadhg Leader in Ireland, maybe got three sessions done," Smyth said. "He saw that I had a real leg and a real talent. It was maybe about 20 kickers there at that tryout, and there was a final five selected to go to the last phase of the tryout.

"I didn't really know what I was walking into at that tryout, but the fact that I was being flown out of Ireland to England for the tryout – I knew the NFL was behind it and I knew that if we got to the IPP program, we'd be going to the NFL Combine. For me, I knew what the Combine was because I'd watched it on TV the past seven or eight years, so I was probably a bit nervous. I knew it was a chance to have a really, really good preparation to essentially try out for NFL teams."

Now, Smyth will be compensated for working on a game he'd been playing for free. There was no pay for Gaelic football.

"I work a job 9 to 4. Actually finished college degree last year and I started doing some teaching," he said. "That's what I'd essentially be doing now if I wasn't (signed by Saints).

"In my free time that's what I loved doing, was kicking Gael footballs over the bar just like it was a field goal. So I've never seen it as a job. It's just unbelievable that I'm getting to do my hobby now full-time. I'm just absolutely thrilled to do it in New Orleans."

And with an organization that has shown it will take routes that are somewhat unconventional; Grupe won the starting job last year after a competition with former Pro Bowler Wil Lutz, who in six seasons made 165 of 195 field goals (84.6 percent) and is one of the most successful kickers in franchise history.

Smyth's journey led from an introduction to an American football in August, to a three-year deal with the Saints in March.

"Just goes to show that if you have the swing and you have the talent and you have the mind-set that you can really make this possible in a short period of time," he said. "I just can't wait to get to work now with (Saints special teams coordinator) Coach (Darren) Rizzi and (special teams assistant) Coach Phil (Gailiano) and learn from them. Who knows what can happen in the coming months, but I just can't wait to get to work."

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