This story might take a minute to get to. Apologies. But just wait for it.
Being plugged into recruiting means you hear about the next big things a lot. Some shine in their own little shade of grass, but aren’t ready for the FieldTurf.
That seems like an odd way — even to me — to start off with Nolan Smith. That name came to me during his freshman year at Calvary Day in Savannah. He had 2 sacks but was already seen as a hot prospect.
Smith took a big leap in 2016: 12 sacks, 16 tackles for losses. 74 total tackles.
But there’s a point when reality chimes. He’s a high school sophomore. That’s too far away. So I pumped the brakes.
They stayed pumped until December. I honestly knew the names and faces of about 25 other big-time 2019 recruits before I met him that day.
I saw him at an Elite Sophomores practice. He crushed it.
We had our first good chat. He crushed that, too.
When he spoke, two names came to mind. Richard LeCounte III. Jameis Winston. (Winston was almost the valedictorian at his school. He got into Stanford. Winston told me he wanted to be a podiatrist when he was a high school sophomore.)
Smith made a series of plays in the “True 19” elite sophomore game. The first was a tackle for a loss at the goal line in safety territory. He then basically put his helmet underneath the quarterback’s chin strap on third down. Destroyed that play.
He was everywhere. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder had also clearly established Georgia as the team to beat in his recruiting.
That’s the point where I thought: Ask a DawgNation reader how much they want to know about a 2019 kid. They’ll cringe. But tell them about Smith. They will want to know about a kid who loves his home state, cares about the world and plays like a pass-rush ninja every single down.
He could be another LeCounte. But that’s just a parallel for folks to quickly deduce what he is all about. He’s transferring from Calvary to IMG Academy this Saturday.
The guy could be the first Nolan Smith. And after 3 quarterback sacks and 4 tackles and umpteen other QB pressures against Texas, it seems like he already is.
Getting to know Nolan
First, there’s the football.
“I’m always trying to perfect the pass rush,” Smith said. “Trying to be really dominant on a base block. If I get a base block, I need to learn how to always put his butt back in the hole and just working on always being a disciplined football player. That’s it.”
A rough estimate of his snaps against Texas shows me he beat his block on at 35 percent of his snaps. At least. That’s the beast mode the kids talk about.
Smith realizes his likely Saturday fit is at outside linebacker.
“I talk to Coach (Kevin) Sherrer from Georgia and me and him are real good friends,” Smith said. “I like being an outside linebacker. I feel like they can get me to that next level of being dominant.”
His “yes, sirs” flow forth in conversation as quickly as those QB hurries came against Texas.
He knows where he wants to go to college. Already.
“It is really nice,” Smith said. “I really know what I want to do. My mind is made up basically right now.”
Smith aspires to make his game a mix of the stunt work Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter does with healthy doses of what Alabama’s Reuben Foster and Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan do coming downhill.
The football is already there, but that’s not really where he’s beyond his years.
Sharing one’s blessings
Want to know what Smith did on Christmas Day? It wasn’t an unwrapping spree. Or even playing the latest video game or with Apple’s toys.
“My Dad and I wake up that day and we go take food to the homeless on Christmas Day,” Smith said. “That’s a big thing in Savannah so we go downtown. There’s a Salvation Army right there. You start at the Salvation Army and anybody that comes to us we pass out food.”
When he sees those downtrodden folks on the street, he looks at them a different way. He doesn’t lock the car doors. He wonders about their plight.
“I wouldn’t even call them bums,” Smith said. “I really say they are my friends because when I am walking in the morning they get up and wave at me. When I am running across the bridge they are waving at me as they walk across the same bridge. They are just really friendly people. They are just misunderstood. They made some mistakes in life that it has been hard for them to recover from. That’s why we feel led to get up Christmas morning and get out and go feed them.”
Smith is 16 years old. 16 years and one day old this very day. He said setting out on Christmas Day to feed the homeless might have been the coolest day of his life.
“It was either that day or the day I got my offer from Georgia,” Smith said. “That was a really exciting day. I always loved the ‘Dogs and always loved their camps but never really got that look. I guess I just wasn’t that guy, but when Kirby Smart came there he said I was one of those guys.”
He got that offer from Kirby Smart this past year on G-Day. That was #93KDay. South Carolina and Tennessee also have offered. Alabama wants to see him at a camp, but he said the only camps he goes to now are Georgia camps.
“I only went to two camps this summer,” Smith said. “That’s a Georgia camp and a Clemson camp because my best friend (and former Calvary teammate) Milan Richard goes there.”
He wants to study engineering in college. He also likes biology and mentioned biomedical engineering as a likely pursuit.
Smith loves to read. He gobbles up education.
“Say I blow my knee out God forgiven today or tomorrow or in college, then I want to love my job like I love my job playing football,” Smith said. “I love this game. I love this game because it builds a sense of family. Say I practice with you for four days in a week and then we go out here and win this game I’m going to have a love for you and we are never going to forget the relationship with each other we built through the game of football. There’s nothing like it.”
Smith said his father still talks about his youth football days. His glory days. He wants that even though he’s really the first real football kid from a family of basketball players.
He wears No. 5 for a special reason.
“It symbolizes five things,” Smith said. “That’s your heart, mind, body, team and your family. Those are the five things that matter the most to me. Those are the five reasons why I wear that No. 5.”
— Jeff Sentell (@jeffsentell) January 14, 2017
The potential of #NewBreed19
North Murray offensive tackle Luke Griffin is the only commitment at Georgia for the Class of 2019. For now. Look for that to change.
Well, once it is time to.
I asked Smith about that. That was the same question I posed to top-flight recruits like Ryland Goede, Keiondre Jones and Travon Walker. Those guys all had UGA offers before the end of their sophomore season. At least.
That seems like an odd question, but the Intel says otherwise. There is a already a healthy appreciation among those guys regarding what Georgia coach Kirby Smart is building.
The organizer of the True 19 game even predicted the Class of 2019 will win a national title at UGA.
Smith says there’s no pressure to be that LeCounte for 2019.
“Keiondre and I are real good friends,” Smith said. “We stay in touch. So it really is not as much as being the first guy among our group to commit to a school. It is more like when he and I commit, we are getting everyone on board. There’s nothing like playing for home like Richard LeCounte did. When you commit, then you bring everyone else in with you. That’s what we are really trying to do.”
He spoke about his in-state roots.
“Savannah is a big ‘Go Dawgs’ town so where I come from kids all come to the game with Georgia stuff on,” Smith said. “I wear the Georgia gloves. People ask me all the time and (I) tell people ‘I don’t know yet’ but the thing is with the 2019 class we need to get everybody on board if we are going to go to Georgia. Just like Richard LeCounte did. It needs to be if I commit, then it could be me first or then Keiondre. Or Keiondre first and then me and then a chain reaction. Make it a simple thing like that.”
Jones and Smith go back for the last three years. That is a football friendship that was built through Football University. That’s known as “FBU” around the South. They first encountered one another through the “Next Gen” program in middle school.
“He was a standout at the camp,” Smith said. “He was like my only competition and we just became best friends after that. He was the guy who could stalemate me.”
What are the chances they play together?
“They are high,” Smith said. “Really high.”
Like 80 percent high?
“Higher than that,” Smith said.
Like 94 percent high?
“I’m talking around 96 percent,” Smith said. “We are going to find our way to where we want to be at the same school but at the end of the day it is going to be a different path for both of us getting there.”
Smith said he also needs to see Ohio State before he can set his mind.
“That’s it,” Smith said. “That’s because Richard LeCounte and Raekwon McMillian talked about it and how good that place is. He wasn’t trying to tell me where to go. He just wanted me to follow what I feel is right for me in my heart.”
He wants to play in college with Jones plus Grayson’s Owen Pappoe and Kenyatta Watson. Smith would go after Goede and Walker, too. He also sees victories on the way if he could add Walton’s Dominick Blaylock and Parkview’s Malik Washington to the same recruiting class, too.