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Nolan Smith, arguably the country’s best linebacker and a leader for Georgia’s defense, won co-SEC Defensive Player of the Week yesterday. In a 40-13 drubbing against interstate rivals South Carolina, Smith made a career-high eight tackles, including two sacks that produced points—a strip sack and an end zone sack.
“He had two really big plays and he continues to play with great effort,” UGA coach Kirby Smart said about his emerging superstar. “He practices really hard and he does things the right way in terms of physical toughness – not afraid of contact – and continues to grow and get better.”
Smith, a junior, is now in the top three on his team for both sacks and tackles. Smart thinks that the sky is the limit for Smith, given he continues to get better daily.
“I still think he can show some improvement in his run defense, in the way he strikes and plays blockers, technique and things,” Smart said. “But, he’s a great closer, he’s a great recognition guy of plays coming, and he’s a great pass rusher.”
Smart won’t say it publicly, but we’re likely watching the early years of a future NFL defensive captain; the kind of player that leads a defense for a decade-plus as a cornerstone of the franchise. Smith has been vocal about dedication to football, his absolute love of the game, and his desire to improve daily. The fact that he was a No. 1 recruit out of high school doesn’t hurt either.
“When the momentum gets to swinging and we are at home in between the hedges, it just feels like no one can stop you,” Smith said about playing at home in front of fans. “Like I said before, you have to be part of that 11 on the field hearing that crowd roaring and yelling. You just have to believe in the call and the confidence of the whole team, the whole 11.
“Moving as one band, one sound…it is just a beautiful thing.”
Georgia travels to Nashville this weekend to face a skeleton of a Vanderbilt team.