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Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith is establishing himself as one of the next great SEC defensive leaders.
“If you’re messing around Nolan is going to get on you,” teammate Channing Tindall said. “Nolan is a true vocal leader of the team, the energy of the defense.”
Smith certainly set the tone last Saturday night in Charlotte. On Clemson’s opening drive, Georgia dropped eight men into coverage in hopes of preventing a third-down conversion. Smith beat the left tackle and took down Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, for what would end up being the first of seven sacks (by 6 different players) for the Georgia defense that evening.
It was a huge play that only an elite college defender could make.
“I just wanted to do it for my brothers,” Smith said. “I was more happy for [fellow linebacker] Nakobe [Dean] because we put a lot of stuff to do those pressures right and when they hit it’s real exciting that everyone did their job.”
It was a tremendous effort all-around from the Georgia defense, which ended up holding Clemson to just two yards on the ground all night. Head coach Kirby Smart made sure to acknowledge his defensive leader, too.
“I thought he was a more confident leader,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He worked out really well, he always trains hard. It seems like he is always in a good mood, excited about practice, just a really fun kid to coach.”
The No. 1 overall recruit in the 2019 cycle, Smith hasn’t made many headlines since arriving to Georgia, but it feels like that’s about to change. He’s put on weight, takes the majority of defensive snaps now, and brings a ruthless positive energy to his game each day. Plus, he’s only a junior.
“I take it as an opportunity that I get to wake up and play football and go to class,” Smith said. “Some people don’t get to wake up at all. I just try to transfer that energy over to people.”
Georgia plays at home this Saturday against UAB at 12:30PM ET. Cover photo by Tony Walsh.