ATHENS — Alabama’s game last Saturday was long since over by the time Maurice Smith hauled in that interception and ran it back for a touchdown. So by the time Smith, Georgia’s senior defensive back, got to his phone, it was full of messages from friends on his former team.
“Oh yeah. They were all watching,” Smith said Monday. “My (former) teammates, are relationships still hasn’t changed.”
It wasn’t just teammates.
“I heard from fans, players, and a couple coaches as well,” Smith said.
He didn’t name the coaches, but based on the way things ended at Alabama last summer, Nick Saban probably wasn’t one of them. But Smith’s transfer to Georgia continues to work out well for both sides.
Alabama has obviously survived the loss of Smith, who was projected as the starting nickel back coming out of spring practice. And Smith has flourished at Georgia, starting 10 games and becoming a team leader despite joining the team late.
Then came the topper – for now, the topper – against Auburn: Smith’s 34-yard pick-six early in the second half turned the game in Georgia’s favor, and the Bulldogs’ 13-7 win not only reinvigorated his own team’s season, but clinched the SEC West for his former team.
Whatever disagreements exist between Georgia and Alabama, there was mutual enmity for Auburn.
“They were congratulating me on the pick-six, and also us helping them clinch the West,” Smith said. “Just kicking Auburn out of the way for them, and making it a little easier for their play.”
For his efforts, Smith was named SEC defensive player of the week on Monday. Head coach Kirby Smart, who worked to bring Smith over from Alabama, wanted Smith for his veteran leadership as much as his playing ability.
“He knows what to say and the right time to say it. Coming over here it’s been the same way,” Smart said. “He’s very mature. I thought he might be a little more apprehensive around people he didn’t know to speak out and say his piece and encourage and show leadership. He has not been, and I’ve been very thankful for that. The way that he has played has allowed him to have a voice. You respect the way people practice and play. He’s earned the respect of the team by what he’s done.”