COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina cornerback prospect Cam Smith called Jaycee Horn just before he boarded a plane for the combine last month.
Horn, Smith's former Gamecocks teammate and current Panthers cornerback, shared advice with him as he embarked on his NFL journey.
It's a solid place to get advice, given that Horn became a key starter for Carolina with three interceptions and seven pass breakups in 13 games last year.
"He was just telling me, like, 'Just stay calm. You know all this stuff,'" Smith recalled. "They're going to ask questions about some hard things and stuff like that, so you've just got to answer them and just stay calm."
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Horn, a 2021 first-round selection to the Panthers from South Carolina, has been giving Smith advice since before his younger counterpart made it to college.
Smith grew up in Blythewood, South Carolina, a suburb of Columbia, picking up tips from the elder Horn before he'd even started practices. Smith broke out as an impactful defensive piece for the Gamecocks, tallying six interceptions, 18 pass deflections, and a forced fumble through three full seasons. He ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the combine and performed positional drills in front of scouts at South Carolina's pro day Monday.
"I was the in-town kid that was committed, so we kind of just went over the playbook and stuff like that," Smith said after his pro day workout in Columbia. "That's my earliest memory with him, like going over the playbook, making sure I'm straight by the time I get in, so I'm not falling behind and stuff like that."
So it makes sense that Smith, who learned so much from Horn early in his college career, would draw some comparisons to the Panthers' top corner.
Both are physical athletes skilled at tracking the ball, and Smith is flattered by the comparisons. He said he has worked on modeling the "aggressiveness" Horn plays with, paired with his preparation and film study.
"I consider it a compliment, just being the player that he is and what he's done in his career the past two years at Carolina," Smith said when asked about being compared to Horn. "But at the same time, I want to build my own legacy and be my own person."
Smith said the help from Horn and Cowboys safety Israel Mukuamu (a fellow former Gamecock) has helped him avoid going into the draft "blind." He said they'd told him the "little things" about behaving like a professional and maturing, advice that helped him going into the training process.
Smith and fellow South Carolina cornerback prospect Darius Rush are training together in Charlotte with defensive backs coach ChaChi Sullivan ahead of the draft. Both have leaned on Horn as the process unfolded.
Rush, who finished his college career with three interceptions, seven pass deflections, and a forced fumble, recorded a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the combine and went through positional drills at the Gamecocks' pro day.
"The most thoughtful thing he said to me was 'Keep going,' honestly," Rush said. "Just keep putting in that work, and it's all going to pay off. So I do that, I take that, and I just - like, that's somebody in the NFL, a first-rounder I played with, telling me these words, and look where it got him. So just taking that advice and putting in that hard work, and just dedicating my work to my craft."
Horn has left his former teammates with plenty to look up to as they hope to find their own paths in the NFL - and he's showing them the way too.
"(He's) really just kind of giving you the blueprint," Smith said. "Being inside the building, stuff like that, seeing the ins and outs of everyday life with Jaycee - really, (it) kind of shows you everything you need to do and follow by."