Cameron Smith is a versatile linebacker. He loves to hunt, make wine and tackle ball carriers.
Not necessarily in that order.
The Vikings ended their run of drafting offensive players by taking the University of Southern California linebacker in the fifth round Saturday. They picked an inside linebacker/outdoorsman who went to a high school called Granite Bay and played in a college scheme similar to Mike Zimmer’s defense.
“I just feel like it was meant to be,” Smith said.
First, the football component. Smith became a starter his freshman year at USC and finished his career with 354 tackles. He was the first USC defender to lead the team in tackles three consecutive seasons since the late 1970s. (A perfect farewell pick for outgoing Vikings scout Scott Studwell.)
Smith was so advanced physically as a kid that he played middle school football as a fourth-grader. His grandfather, Bob Lakata, played basketball for Duke in the 1950s, but Smith ran into issues in that sport.
“I always fouled out around the second quarter,” he said.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman believes Smith can play all three linebacker spots, and he praised the linebacker’s intelligence and character. The NFL’s pre-draft process exposes every measurable possible in a prospect, but Smith chose something unquantifiable in defining his style of play.
“I use my brain a lot and do a lot of pre-snap recognition,” he said.
Smith lost 22 pounds before his senior season, whittling to a playing weight of 230 pounds. He picked up yoga to improve his flexibility and eliminated unhealthy snacks.
His reason for returning for his senior year rather than enter the draft last spring demonstrates impressive self-awareness.
“I felt like I had a lot to work on,” he said. “I just didn’t want to look back and think that I rushed out of college.”
OK, about that winemaking.
Smith became interested in wine a few years ago and scored an internship at Melville Winery in Lompoc, Calif.
He gained experience in all facets of the business. He worked in the fields, in the tasting rooms and in the cellar racking barrels.
“I even got to go up to Los Angeles a few times and work on the business part of it,” he said, “which is not my favorite.”
Smith said he finds the whole process — especially the agriculture aspect — “fascinating.”
“It’s so much more in-depth than just drinking it,” he said. “I love learning about what goes into a bottle. It’s adjusted my taste for wine and my palate.”
His palate prefers a good pinot, especially Melville’s.
“Their pinot noir is off the chain,” Smith said. “It’s very light and pretty and elegant. I feel like most people look at me like I am going to be a big body heavy Cabernet. I like the lighter, prettier looking pinot noirs that taste really good to me. Some of the whole cluster that adds a little more veggie to it, I think tastes great.”
He’ll find better fishing than wine tasting in his new home. Smith’s love of the outdoors is a family avocation, passed down by his father and his grandfather.
“That’s one of the things that I’m so excited to go to Minnesota for is the outdoors part of it,” he said. “I like to photograph some of our hunts. It’s almost carefree out there.”
He loves to hunt ducks, geese and turkeys.
“We actually shoot a lot of ducks in California, so people always look at me a little dumbfounded when I say that,” he said. “The best time for me — for football players in general — to hunt is probably turkey season because you’re only going to catch the latter half of waterfowl season. All of deer season is pretty much a busy time. Going to school in Los Angeles, it was my way to get away and do some things that I love and come back Up North and go to Chico and hunt and wear my boots and jeans and get after it a little bit.”
A winemaking, boot-wearing, waterfowl-shooting linebacker? Bud Grant will be proud.