Nolan Smith set to give back to his native Savannah with camp

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Georgia junior OLB Nolan Smith has a lot of love to share with his native Savannah. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Nolan Smith was once a Westside Whipper from Savannah. That was one of his recreational league football teams growing up.

Those days were a few years before he started hopping into his mom’s car and forging his future. He went everywhere from the time he was in middle school to his final years of high school.

His first camp will take place on July 17th and there will be two sessions. The first session will be for ages 10-13 in the morning. The second session will target ages 14-17 in the afternoon.

The cost of attendance will be $35. That’s probably about what Smith spent on gasoline for every trip with his mom trying to find his way from Chatham County to big-time college football.

“Ever since I first met Nolan, he’s always talked about giving back to the community of Savannah,” event spokesman Darrin Hood said.

Registration and event details are available here.

Nolan Smith is ready for a breakout season this year as a Georgia Bulldog. He has 39 career tackles and five sacks in his first two years in Athens.

Nolan Smith: Why he’s hosting this camp

Smith is now a Georgia Bulldog entering what looks to be his breakout year in college football.

What led him to Athens? Where were the first snaps in a career that saw him ranked as the nation’s No. 1 overall high school prospect in 2019?

Those were first as a Liberty City Viking and later as a Westside Whipper in Daffin Park in Savannah.

That’s why the camp location in Daffin Park is so special.

“This was the first place I learned how to play football,” Smith said. “I’m from West Savannah. I used to play with the Westside Whippers right there in Daffin Park. That is right where we are having the camp.”

That field was initially booked, but a cancellation opened up the venue Smith had been hoping for all along.

“Savannah is his heart,” Hood said. “That’s where he comes from. That’s where he grew up. That’s his heart.”

Smith remembers his chunky days coming up when he could not make weight. He was at least 10 pounds over the weight limit that permitted players to run the ball.

“You can ask any of the kids now who used to play rec ball with us,” Smith said. “We used to run around with trash bags on before so we could make weight to run the ball. That used to be an old secret. Most people don’t know about that.”

This camp was not something sparked by the name, image and likeness movement that is transforming the student-athlete role across all of college football.

“This is the first annual one and I’m probably going to try to do two a year or a lot more as it just gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “I want it to be like Deion’s [NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders] own camp. Deion has a ‘Prime 21′ camp that he invites special kids out to and I don’t understand why we can’t have that in Savannah. We have some of the best talent. We are in the state of Georgia, too. I just want to bring something to the kids in Savannah.”

He’s thinking about Liberty County, Glynn County and all of that area in Southeast Georgia.

“I remember growing up that we only saw the camps were in Atlanta,” Smith said. “The closest camps were Atlanta, Tampa or Orlando for a lot of kids.”

Smith wants to one day build a staff of Savannah and Coastal Empire natives who made it to Divison I football to serve as coaches and counselors for the camp. His initial camp will be made up of coaches that he grew up with at the rec league, middle school and at the high school level.

“The thing that makes Daffin Park so special and anyone can tell you is when we got together on a Saturday out there as a Westside Whupper we played all day,” Smith said. “We got there around nine o’clock and I think the last game was around three. Everyone brought their grills out and we had a real good country old time. That’s what I’m trying to do further on as I keep developing the camp to get better and better.”

Football took up most of the morning. The afternoons were for running around and eating hot dogs off the grill. The team Moms were there with all their kids from the different parts of Savannah. The Stars. The players from the Boys Club.

Those were the good days for Smith. As the camp grows, he will return that feeling to “Pups Day Out” campers for years to come. He’d love to return for another camp in the spring. Spring and summer.

The location will not change. Bet on that.

“I’m not trying to change locations,” Smith said. “Ever. I will tell you that now. I want it at Daffin Park and if they tear down Daffin Park, I promise you I will pay money to keep the park there. That’s how special that park is to me. I’ve been playing on that park since I was four years old and I want to be at that park any time I do a camp.”

This will establish what Smith hopes to see become a Savannah tradition.

“I am going to try to have a thousand of these,” Smith said. “I want this to be lived on as a Nolan Smith Camp in Savannah until the day I die. That’s my goal. I’m not doing this for money or NIL. I just want kids to come out.”

He thinks of himself and his teammate Warren Brinson. Smith pointed to former Savannah 5-star Demetris Robertson, too. There’s also West Virginia slot receiver Winston Wright, Jr.

Smith knows more players from Savannah are out there, too. He’s ready to find some more on July 17.

“We’ve got some talent in Savannah and I want people to see it,” he said.

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