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on Wednesday, December 28, 2022 at Mercedes Benz-Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

How injured Nolan Smith continues to help Georgia football win: ‘He’s been a huge help to everyone’

ATLANTA — Hours after his Georgia playing career had come to a halt, Nolan Smith was happy.

Not with the torn pectoral injury that ended his senior season, but with the fact that someone finally got Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson down for a sack in Georgia’s 42-20 win.

“I was just so happy we got him (Anthony Richardson) down,” Smith said. “Everybody was missing him, missing. When Chaz (Chambliss) got him I literally jumped for joy. Like I got the sack. You get to step back and still be a fan.”

Smith has been more than a fan for the Bulldogs in the weeks since he tore his pectoral muscle. Because of his knowledge of the Georgia system and infectious energy, Smith has seamlessly transitioned into being a pseudo-coach for the Bulldogs.

He’s found a way to still make a positive impact on this team, even if he is restricted to the sidelines.

“Just because he doesn’t have a helmet or shoulder pads on means he can’t lead,” linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson said. “Nolan has been leading for the last six weeks with a t-shirt and a brace on. Nothing really changes.”

Georgia would undoubtedly love to have Smith out on the field, especially against a talented Ohio State offense. His pass-rushing and coverage abilities will be sorely missed.

But because of his vocal nature, he’s found a way to still impact this team. Even with roster restrictions for SEC road games, Kirby Smart still saw it as important to bring Smith with the team on road games to Mississippi State and Kentucky.

“Nolan has been amazing,” freshman Marvin Jones Jr. said. “I know it can be tough with an injured season during his senior year but he’s been a huge help to everyone.”

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Jones Jr. hopes to one day follow in the footsteps of Smith. But those are mighty big shoes to fill given all Smith has meant to this Georgia program.

He was the most vocal leader on the 2021 Georgia football team that won a national championship. Then, instead of entering the NFL draft — where he surely would’ve been selected — Smith came back to Georgia to add to his legacy.

Smith just wants to be known as someone that worked hard and had fun in his time in Athens. Given all the winning Georgia has done since Smith arrived as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2019 recruiting cycle — the Bulldogs are 47-5 in that span — he’s made the program a better place than when he walked in.

“With what he’s done for us, he has energy every day,” co-defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann said. " It’s hard to do when your role is diminished because of the inability to be on the field. We go out to flex, he’s yelling, he’s energy, he’s trying to lead despite not being able to be on the field with them actively.”

Schumann added he’d like to see more production out of the outside linebacker room in Smith’s absence, with Chambliss and Robert Beal taking up most of the work.

They’ll have Smith cheering them on from the sidelines as they do so. He’s given the group tons of tips already and his energy level hasn’t waned, even if his time in a Georgia uniform has.

“It wasn’t like I need to get down on myself. I tore my pec and I just wanted to cheer on these guys,” Smith said. “It’s something I always wanted to do. I always talk with Chaz, ‘Man I can’t wait to watch you next year,’ and now I’m watching him now. I just try to watch him every day.”

Teammates such as offensive lineman Broderick Jones note the trickle-down impact Smith’s energy has on the team. That hasn’t changed, even as Smith’s role has.

He’s no longer the feared pass rusher but the well-respected coach. His lauded leadership abilities made that a seamless transition for Georgia. Even in limited practice viewing this week, you can see him encouraging teammates as they go through drills.

And that aspect, more than his drive or athletic gifts, has allowed him to continue to make positive for this Georgia football team.

Glenn Schumann describes how Nolan Smith still has a huge impact on the Georgia football team

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