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Ryan Smenda to play for the Rams

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 5/4/23

FLEMING ISLAND - Fleming Island High football linebacker and state wrestling champion Ryan Smenda, a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and one of the school’s leading tackler, has signed on …

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Ryan Smenda to play for the Rams


FLEMING ISLAND - Fleming Island High football linebacker and state wrestling champion Ryan Smenda, a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and one of the school’s leading tackler, has signed on to play for the National Football League’s Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted rookie free agent, according to NFL sources and also Smenda via a telephone call.

“Give all the Glory to God and thank all the coaches along the way,” said Smenda, at home with his family when the task was done. “I had been to some Pro Days with some other teams; Jaguars, included, and had a good Zoom conversation with the linebacker coaches for the Rams; Chris Shula, in the last two weeks.”

Shula, the son to former Cincinnati Bengals head coach David Shula and a grandson of Hall of Fame coach Don Shula. Don Shula orchestrated the only unbeaten Super Bowl champions while coach for the Miami Dolphins in 1972. Chris Shula joined the Rams in 2017 after two seasons with the San Diego Chargers. Shula developed the Rams to be the top-ranked defensive unit in the NFL in 2020 with fewest points per game, passing yards per game and total yards per game, plus finishing second in the league with 53 sacks. The Rams won the Super Bowl in 2022 over Cincinnati and lost in 2019 to the New England Patriots.

“My kind of coach,” said Smenda. “When we talked, we talked more about my abilities to play defensive football rather than the Pro Day stats.”

Ironically, the Rams also drafted Wake Forest defensive lineman Kobie Turner, an honorable mention All-American by Pro Football Focus, as a third round, 89th overall pick to become just the sixth player to ever be chosen by the Rams. Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has a record of eight defensive p layeres drafted since he has arrived at Wake Forest and three defensive linemen.

On offense, Wake Forest wide receiver A.T. Perry was chosen as the 195th pick in the sixth round by the New Orleans Saints.

Smenda, an all state linebacker under coach Damenyum Springs while at Fleming Island and also an offensive threat as a pop in running back for the offense and the team’s punter, was one of the more prolific defensive players as a Demon Deacon on a program that has moved each year into “elite” status among the NCAA top teams.

“Being from Wake Forest was kind of fresh start as an NCAA power team in the last few years,” said Smenda, noting Wake Forest, since 2016, has the second-most wins in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) and the second-most bowl appearances for the ACC. “People started to recognize the caliber of players we have had the past four or five years and, with “Boogie” Basham (2021 draftee Carlos Basham Jr, a second rounder for the Buffalo Bills as defensive tackle) going big last year, we have had more scouts and coaches taking closer looks at our players.”

At the March 29 Wake Forest Pro Day tryouts and evaluations, Wake Forest head football coach Dave Clawson noted, in an article by Tony Siracusa at LastWordOnSports, that the Wake Forest product has grown immensely in the last five years of his nine years as Demon Deacon coach.

“I think our first year here, you know, we maybe had three NFL scouts here,” said Clawson, noting 28 NFL teams were on hand and one Canadian Football League coach. “These players (Smenda among the 11 on hand) have elevated the program. This is their reward. They get a lot more attention than when we didn’t win games.”

Smenda, though not drafted, was on a Zoom call with Rams linebackers coach Chris Shula (grandson to NFL legendary coach Don Shula) before getting his nod.

“Though I did well at the Pro Day physical fitness tests” 4.68 for 40 yards, 23 bench press reps at 225 pounds and a 9-foot-plus broad jump), I think the Rams liked my football knowledge in our interview more than those numbers,” said Smenda, in five seasons for Wake Forest (one extra for COVID), amassed 355 tackles with 24.5 tackles for losses of 85 yards and 4.5 sacks from his middle linebacker position. Smenda finished strong with 117 total tackles last year with 5.5 tackles for losses.

Smenda also noted that the Rams liked his size and athleticism.

“They were asking if I could come in at 240 pounds and I had just weighed at 238 just a week prior so that was a good thing,” said Smenda. “I reported May 12 to Los Angeles for camp and OTAs and we’ll see what happens from there.”

Smenda, reportedly, signed a three year contract with the Rams.