Throwback: Musa Smith’s ‘gut feeling’ led him to UGA

Former UGA great Musa Smith ran for 2,202 yards during his time in Athens.

Editor’s note: This continues a regular feature on DawgNation called “Throwback Thursday.” It offers the chance to revisit the recruiting stories of former UGA greats. The last few installments were on big-play QB DJ Shockley from North Clayton1985 Florida game hero Keith Hendersonhis 1980’s running mate Tim Worley and all-time punt returner Damien Gary

Musa Smith isn’t in the football-toting business anymore. The self-described Pennsylvania “country boy” had a storied career that included UGA’s breakthrough 2002 SEC Championship, a Sugar Bowl MVP trophy and five years in the NFL.

Smith is now a Senior VP of Consulting at The Impact Partnership. They are a wholesaler in the insurance industry. His specialty lies within in-house marketing for a company that is set up like a big-box advertising agency.

The Acworth resident ran for 1,324 yards during that 2002 season at UGA. That’s still ninth all-time in team history for a single-season. He rolled to 2,202 career rushing yards for the Bulldogs. There are still only 10 players in the program’s storied history who have produced more than that.

Smith was the first UGA back in over a decade to run for 1,000 yards in a single-season in 2002. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Those feats alone will always open the doors of potential clients in Georgia. But no one belts out a long “Mooo-saaaah” when he lands a new account the way they did after every carry when he was a go-to back at UGA.

But oh if they did. That would be life’s gold all over again.  

Smith couldn’t believe it when it started, but somehow the Sanford Stadium crowd decided he deserved that tribute after every carry.

“There’s nothing like the adrenaline of college football,” Smith said. “It is just a natural high you hear a lot of athletes mention about competition being on the field in that atmosphere. But then at that point of time having 86,000 fans screaming your name there really is nothing like that. It was an unbelievable experience and also very humbling. I loved that, man. I can tell you it really brought the best out of me.”

Smith has three daughters, and their sports are gymnastics and softball. He looks like he can still pick up four yards per carry in the SEC, but he’ll never forget those days.

“The funny thing is the players at Georgia noticed sometimes I’d have a negative run and the fans would still yell my name,” Smith said. “It would be like negative six yards on the run and it would still get a ‘Musa’ from the crowd. That’s just Athens though, man. Bulldog Nation loves their football.”

Musa Smith said a ‘gut feeling’ and ‘Southern hospitality’ led him to UGA. (Rick Addicks / AJC)

Networking led him to Athens. One of his high school coaches knew somebody who was connected to former UGA coach Jim Donnan. So his highlight tape was sent to Athens. Smith was offered a full scholarship less than a month later.

He had his eye on Notre Dame, Penn State, Purdue and Michigan State. Smith also was intrigued by Wisconsin after Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne became a star.

Smith and his high school coach went on a college tour before his senior season. He worked construction that summer during the week. That was something he wanted to do in order to prime his body for the upcoming season. The college visits came on the weekends.

When he first walked onto the practice field at UGA, his recruiting process was essentially over.

“They were just having a summer pass skeleton drill,” Smith said. “A bunch of players were out there and it was truly that Southern Hospitality which drew me down here.”

Smith wanted something different than his country Pennsylvania roots. He still loves how he can be in the aisle of a grocery store looking at an item and a friendly face will offer up a family recipe out of the blue.

The current UGA players were like that on his first trip to Athens.

“As soon as I saw the players I had like 15 or 20 of them come up and say hello,” Smith said. “That was by far the most compared to any other school I visited. I just had a gut feeling UGA was going to be the place for me.”

He didn’t know anything about UGA or its tradition, but it didn’t matter. When he came down for a game, he said Auburn “beat the brakes” off the Bulldogs that day. It didn’t faze him.

Smith had a five-year career in the NFL after being selected in the third round of the 2003 draft. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

“I wanted to go to Georgia just off that one single first experience alone,” Smith said. “I committed before my senior season and took my official visit after my senior year.  .. I just knew it deep down in my gut and I wouldn’t change my decision for the world. I’d do it again 20 times over.”

Smith was picked in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2003 NFL Draft. He played in 49 games across five seasons, tallied 496 career yards and scored four touchdowns.

He had two major injuries. He broke his tibia and fibula on a carry that came one year before the horse collar rule in regards to tackling became official. He also came back from a neck injury.

“Overall it was a life dream that came true,” Smith said. “A childhood dream that came true and I lived it to the fullest. It was awesome man. It was a blessing.”

 

Jeff Sentell covers UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.

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