ATLANTA – After the ball landed, sealing the win, Maurice Smith ran alone, leaping and looking at the stands, waving his arms and exhorting Georgia fans to get on their feet and cheer. They already were.
Maybe this was more about Smith, and all it took to get to this moment.
“My passion for the game was really showing,” Smith said. “I felt like I needed to express it. Especially with what I’ve been through. I just wanted to let the fans know that I’m proud to be here, and to be a Dawg.”
The Smith saga, his fight to be able to transfer to Georgia from Alabama, was the big story for a couple of weeks in early August. When he won the fight and joined Georgia, and it became about football, his profile went back down.
Until Saturday. In a bit of a surprise, Smith earned the start at nickel back. And then he starred, with a couple of key pass break-ups, and five tackles, including a couple on third down.
Basically, Smith showed why Kirby Smart and Nick Saban fought so hard over a guy who had only started two games in three years at Alabama.
“He believes in doing it right,” said Smart, who saw Smith the past three years at Alabama. “He believes in being physical, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see that for three years, and then he did that when he arrived, and he plays with physicality.”
Smith had been working on the second team at nickel back since he arrived, behind sophomore Rico McGraw. But then Smith was told Thursday he was starting.
Picking up Georgia’s playbook was the easy part for Smith, who knew the system well already. He said his new teammates also made the adjustment smooth.
“I never thought they would accept me like that, just coming from one of the best, top schools in the nation, an SEC school that we played last year, and just for them to embrace me like they have, it means a lot to me,” Smith said.
The hardest part may have been the schoolwork. As a condition of granting his transfer within the conference, the SEC put stipulations on Smith, including that he must take and pass nine hours this semester in public health, his graduate major. He also has to complete his master’s degree in two years.
That made things “a little harder,” Smith said Saturday, but it’s also what he wants. He did graduate from Alabama in just over three years, after all.
Still, throw all this together – he’s still only been with the team for three weeks now – and it might have been overwhelming.
“It was actually a little easy,” Smith said. “I only say that because the help that I got, the coaches really wanted me to play, and they gave me all the help I needed. So I was up late at night, getting school done, and also getting as much film as I needed. They really stayed up with me and made sure that I got it.”