FLAGSTAFF Big-name players for huge-name college programs usually get drafted.
That didn't happen for Louisiana State's Ali Highsmith.
The beneficiary may be the Cardinals, with whom Highsmith might hook on with as a backup linebacker.
He could be this year's version of offensive lineman Lyle Sendlein, who also played in a big-time program (Texas), went undrafted last year, was acquired by the Cardinals, and made the team.
Highsmith started 38 games from 2005-07 for one of the nation's top college defenses. Maybe he didn't get drafted because of his smallish stature. He's listed at 6-foot-1, 223 pounds.
But he's made a fine showing in training camp, and backed it up with a solid preseason game last week vs. New Orleans.
Among his plays: He helped stop a Saints drive on fourth-and-1 at the Cardinals' 1-yard line.
Said an approving coach Ken Whisenhunt: "He looked like he was back at LSU. He was all over the field making plays.
"That's why we were excited to get him. Our scouting staff did a great job of finding him, talking to him and getting him to sign here."
Said Highsmith, "I was trying to make an impact and show I belong."
The linebacker said he was surprised, at first, that he wasn't drafted, "But things happen for a reason.
"You just got to take what you get and run with it. Whatever happens, you have to appreciate it and go to the next step."
He's less concerned with "proving everybody wrong" than just playing and doing his job.
Though the speed of the NFL game is an adjustment, "I feel like once you've played the game and played it at several different levels, it kind of comes natural," he said.
His main concerns now are "learning the terminology on a new defense and just making the plays, feeling comfortable with yourself and not thinking a lot. That's how I approach the game."
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast describes Highsmith as possessing "excellent instincts" including an ability to read an offense's running game.
In addition, "He drops into coverage well." All in all, "He's really, really had a fine camp."
Pendergast isn't sure why Highsmith wasn't drafted, but, "Every Saturday when I sat down and watched LSU, his name kept coming up," Pendergast said. "I'm a firm believer, that if you can play football, at every single level you're going to be a good player no matter what. just because of your instincts. He's obviously showing them here."
Along the same lines, linebackers coach Bill Davis said watching Highsmith's college videotape gave a clue that he had a good chance to make the NFL.
"The SEC (Southeastern Conference) is the closest speed matchup to the NFL," Davis said. "If you can run and play well in that league, you think he can make it in the NFL.
"Watching him ... against our offensive players ... you see how his speed matched up. You saw he could do it."
Then came last week's preseason game vs. the Saints.
Davis said, "The last hurdle that you really had to see was: could he do it in a game with the lights on?" Davis said. "He's passed another test. He's got a handful more to pass before he makes the team, but he's on the right path."
Said Highsmith, "I feel like I have an opportunity to make this team."
He just might do it.