EDITOR’S NOTE: This extended Nolan Smith profile kicks off a special series in partnership with Georgia Farm Bureau profiling homegrown talent from the State of Georgia. To access other HomeGrown Talent articles please visit the series hub on DawgNation.com
Nolan Smith belongs on a football field. His first spring practice at Georgia is simply the most recent entry for that ledger.
Smith belonged as a rare junior at the Opening finals in the summer of 2017. It was no different than his freshman slate at Calvary Day in Savannah. He picked up his Georgia offer on the famed “93KDay” that kicked off the Kirby Smart era in Athens. The year was 2016. It was his first offer.
He grew up a believer in that line which goes something like “Georgia boys should stay home and represent the home state” that’s been echoed by several Bulldog signees in the past.
He enrolled in January. His work from this spring is fresh. The Flashes and Moments.
Scouts might treat those as proper nouns. Especially how Smith can Flash. Even as the degree of difficulty in his career path keeps ratcheting up.
That was him crashing into Georgia All-American candidate Andrew Thomas. Thomas is as strong as a player as the Bulldogs will suit up in 2019. But there were some plays where the protection called for the front to get help on Smith’s side, too.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart offered up a blunt assessment of Smith in a spring media session. This wasn’t even the time he connected the freshman with “Superman” plays and then some not-sure-he-knows-what-he’s-doing-yet-reps either.
“Nolan plays hard all the time,” Smart said. “He doesn’t always play smart but he plays with great effort and does a good job.”
The key phrase was “does a good job” from Smart.
Veteran correspondents tend to reach for a Q-tip when hearing that about freshmen early enrollees. Especially for teenagers who will play in the box for a defensive-minded coach like Smart.
Nolan Smith has been dreaming of his first college season
Maybe a receiver can earn that praise. Or another talented tailback. But not at a spot that requires more mental reps. The Georgia defensive playbook is tougher to absorb.
Smart’s words — filtered through years of listening to coaches cut block the hype train for young players — did mean something. The “Georgia Way” is to earn it first. Especially for those who have yet to do anything in the Southeastern Conference.
Smith is not going to leap tall buildings in single bound or take down The Night King in Week 1 at Vanderbilt, but he will help in 2019.
The reasons why are found all over his young career. He left Savannah after his sophomore season for IMG Academy. It took him more than five hours away from his Savannah roots.
“Savannah doesn’t really have that true tough competition around there,” his mother Chakeima Thompson said back on January 15, 2017. “There is more competition at IMG. My son’s dream is to be a true freshman that plays when he goes to college. When he decides which college he wants to go to.”
Smith wants not only to contribute as a freshman, but to be a leader in Athens. He just doesn’t want to be the only one in another hyped signing class.
“I tell them all the time we all have got to be leaders,” Smith said back in January on the 2019 class. “Not just me. Not just one or two. That’s how we will win a national championship while we are all here. You do your job. Everyone does their job and then you have some guys who make some extravagant plays.”
Count on Smith to deliver his share of those.
Freshman OLB Nolan Smith has already made a good first impression at UGA. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
Nolan Smith and his “Baby Boy” years
When he enrolled at IMG Academy in late January of 2017, he was just a highly-athletic kid from Savannah. IMG told him it would make him a lot better. And it did.