ATHENS – There’s a group text message that some Alabama football players use to communicate daily. Maurice Smith, though he’s now a Georgia football player, is still on it.
So on Saturday night, after they had all had begun their seasons, Smith pushed send on a message to his former teammates.
“To make sure they saw what I did, and also that I saw what they did, and I was proud of them,” Smith said.
It’s only one game, but so far Smith’s much-debated transfer is working out for both sides. Alabama demolished Southern California, and Smith was one of the defensive stars in Georgia’s win over North Carolina, racking up six tackles and two pass break-ups.
It was a sweet beginning for Smith, who fought for the right to transfer to Georgia, a fight that took until two weeks into the Bulldogs’ camp. And yet he was still able to come in and start.
It validated Smith’s decision to fight Alabama blocking the transfer, rather than giving up and going someplace else, such as Miami.
“That came from what my parents instilled in me,” Smith said. “We obviously made a commitment to the University of Alabama, and it was from the start to the finish.”
In the minds of the Smith family, the finish came when he earned his undergraduate degree this summer.
“And once I decided to take my talents somewhere else and we wanted to move on, it was kinda like, I’m not going to stop until I get a ‘no’ from the last person,” Smith said. “The last word was from the SEC. It wasn’t from a coach or anybody else like that. If they would have given me the ‘no’ then I would’ve stopped. But until then I wasn’t satisfied.”
Smith was fairly up front Tuesday about why he wanted to badly to go to Georgia. While the familiarity with head coach Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator/secondary coach Mel Tucker helped, it wasn’t the key factor.
“Honestly, me and coach Smart’s relationship wasn’t really as strong as (people think) on the outside looking in would think it would be,” Smith said. “I felt like I had a better chance to play here, and make an impact here.”
But Smith finished Alabama’s spring as the first-team nickel back. Was he in any way promised a starting spot by Smart?
“None at all,” Smith said. “As soon as I told them this was what I wanted to do, he said you’re going to have to work for everything, I’m not going to give you anything. He said, ‘You’ll have a good chance of coming and playing for our defense. But as far as starting, that’s something you’re going to have to do on your own.’”
Which he did. Smith had run second-team almost his entire time in camp, then was told two days before the game he would be starting. It proved the right call, as Smith made tackles on the first series, and later knocked away a couple of deep balls.
It showed why Nick Saban and Alabama wanted Smith to stick around. But despite the very public split, Smith said his relationship with former teammates remains strong, naming sophomore safety Ronnie Harrison as one of the people he still talks to on that text-message string.
“That’s what I don’t think many people understand, is our bond was never broken, and I still talk to those guys daily in that little group message that we have, and we still speak all the time,” Smart said. “They check on me, and I check on them. We laugh about things that I laughed about when I was in Alabama. So our relationship is still strong.”