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Kirby Smart has built a very strong program at Georgia.

Players on both sides of Super Bowl praise Kirby Smart influence

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Kirby Smart, Georgia football draw rave reviews at the Super Bowl

Only one Georgia player,  running back Sony Michel, was coached by Kirby Smart will take the field on Sunday, when the New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl. But he’s not the only one whose learned from Smart.

Donta Hightower of the Patriots and Mark Barron of the Rams both played for Smart when he served as the defensive coordinator at Alabama. And both spoke highly of Smart on Monday night.

“He’s a great coach. A lot of things he’s doing at Georgia, I wouldn’t expect any different,” Hightower said. “He’s very devoted to his players.”

Hightower was drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft and has become a stalwart defensive standout in New England. He made key defensive stops in both of New England’s two Super Bowl wins in 2014 and 16.

Related: Bill Belichick gives Georgia football and Kirby Smart a big-time recruiting pitch

Barron — who moved from safety to linebacker once he got in the NFL — knows Smart perhaps better than any player. Smart was his position coach at Alabama in addition to serving as the defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide.

“He taught me so much of what I know about football today,” Barron said. “That’s my guy. It really was just a matter of time before he became a great head coach.”

Hightower likewise expected Smart to continue to be a great head coach, citing that he passed up multiple offers to remain at Alabama until the right job opened up.

The former Crimson Tide star even joked that it takes a special coach to stay with Nick Saban for as long as he did.

“I didn’t expect anything different. Kirby and Nick are two great guys,” Hightower said. “I used to love seeing them go at it in the meeting room, and it’s not any different now with him at Georgia.”

Michel also spoke highly of Smart and mentioned that he and Smart talked throughout the season, even though both had full schedules. Michel also gave an endorsement to new offensive coordinator James Coley, who replaced Jim Chaney as the offensive coordinator.

Related: Trent Dilfer on Georgia offense: ‘It’s the right way to win football games’

New England center David Andrews didn’t play for Smart but did say that Georgia has been great to him as he continues to come back. Andrews highlighted that Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman treats him as if he is one of his former players.

Andrews and Michel make up a total of four former Bulldogs in the Super Bowl, which is tied with Rutgers for the most among any college. That doesn’t include offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, who was a first round draft pick by the New England Patriots in the 2018 NFL Draft.

And if they keep ending up like Michel, Hightower expects to see a lot more Georgia players in the years to come under Smart.

“I haven’t been around too many bad Georgia guys in the NFL,” Hightower said. “And as long as they keep coming in like this, I’ll be fine with it.”

Todd Gurley takes on Barstool Sports

Other than New England quarterback Tom Brady, there might not be a bigger star in the game than Los Angeles Rams and former Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

And because of the kind of attention, Gurley got some strange media questions and requests. And two of the funniest, or at least more interesting, came from guys who were not even supposed to be there.

Dave Portnoy and PFT Commenter of Barstool Sports both had viral moments occur with Gurley during the Super Bowl media night on Monday.

We’ll start with PFT Commenter, whose interaction was certainly the more lighthearted of the two. Gurley had once said that he prefers cats to dogs, and PFT Commenter thought that Monday night was the perfect time to revisit those comments.

Gurley admitted that he does not have any cats yet, mostly because he was too busy trying to take the Rams to the Super Bowl. You can see the full interaction in the clip below.

Portnoy’s however was a little bit more contentious. Over the course of the season, Gurley twice stopped on runs at the end of games to try and help the Rams win by simply running out the clock, instead of scoring and giving the ball back to the opposing team. This action annoyed and frustrated both fantasy owners and gamblers alike.

Portnoy seemed to be one of those gamblers, as he hinted in his question that he may have lost $40,000 because of Gurley’s actions. It’s worth pointing out that in both games

Gurley was unfazed by the interaction and had a rather perfect response.

“That seems like a personal problem to me,” Gurley said.

All in all, both interactions were pretty harmless. Of course, they also never should’ve happened given that both Portnoy and PFT Commenter were supposed to be banned by the NFL from attending the event. The two were both later escorted from the building by security and charged with criminal trespassing.

WATCH: Todd Gurley’s hilarious exchange with trespassing Barstool Sports blogger

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