He was a four-star recruit out of high school in Owings Mills, Maryland. An accomplished offensive tackle, Donovan Smith committed to Penn State. Just over two months into his redshirt year with the Nittany Lions in 2011, the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and became national news. Legendary coach Joe Paterno was eventually stripped of his head coaching duties and Penn State's 8-1 start led to a 9-4 finish under Tom Bradley (1-3).
Banned from bowl games for four years by the NCAA, many players soon applied for transfers. Smith, who had yet to play a down, honored his commitment and stuck it out in Happy Valley.
In 2012 Smith stepped into the starting left tackle spot as a redshirt freshman and never relinquished the role making 31 starts over the past three seasons. The challenge for the offensive tackle was finding consistency in his game, but being part of a program that struggled to find coaching consistency in the wake of a major scandal one could understand why Donovan's technique wasn't sound down in and down out.
Bill O'Brien took over as head coach in 2012 when Smith stepped into the lineup. After two seasons he left to become head coach of the Houston Texans with Jerry Franklin named head coach last year. In Smith's four years at Penn State the coaching turnover made it hard for he and his teammates to adapt to new schemes almost every year.
Though difficult at the time Smith sees it as a blessing now as he embarks on a pro career.
"Having three different head coaches, three different offensive coordinators, you see a little bit of everything," said Smith. "It made me into the man I am today. You know you have to learn to go through adversity. That's what it taught me. Life is not easy. Things are going to be thrown at you every which kind of way. You have to be able to adjust and adapt. It definitely taught me a lot."
While some of the ups and downs in Smith's game are a concern to some NFL scouts, no one can deny his ideal measurables at 6-6 and 328 pounds and unusually good feet.
"Donovan Smith is super talented," said ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper. "His workout is first round. His performance was at times third or fourth round. If you can coach him up and get him to be more consistent and work on some of the aspects of his play that lead to him struggling at times then you have a guy who could be a really good left tackle in this league.
"He's a guy that went through a lot of changes there at Penn State. So I think somebody is going to roll the dice on Donovan Smith because you can't find a lot of pure left tackles in this draft. You're not finding them out there, they're not around, so maybe second round, third round for Donovan Smith."
Where most NFL scouts believe Smith needs the most work is with his hand and arm techniques. His arms are certainly long enough at almost 35 inches. It's taking full advantage of that length that counts. Smith sees improved technique as the key to his pro career.
"In the NFL you have to be consistent in your technique," Smith said. "So definitely technique is where I have to improve. Hands, feet, and whatever the O-line coach is teaching."
Boosting Smith's draft stock was a strong week of practices and by some accounts an even stronger performance in the game as his North team beat the South 34-13. Smith dominated his man at the line of scrimmage at times prompting NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock to make mention of Smith specifically during the game broadcast. He too sees him as a second or third round pick.
"The Senior Bowl was an opportunity presented to me and I took full advantage of it," he said. "Being able to go out there and compete with the best. It was just a great opportunity for me. I'm very confident in my play and what I can do on the field. It was just the competitiveness in me and the confidence I have in my abilities."
Some NFL talent evaluators compared his skills to that of San Diego Chargers offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, a former first-round pick. Smith however, tries to pattern his game against an even bigger name.
"Jonathan Ogden," said Smith of the former Baltimore All-Pro. "That was my guy since I was young. He's the standard."
A standard Smith hopes to live up to.