ATHENS -- Tykee Smith sounds like he’s ready to bring the heat from the Georgia secondary now that he’s finally adjusted to playing in it.
The Bulldogs’ secondary has been one of the strongest units in spring drills as Smith has teamed up with playmakers Javon Bullard and Malaki Starks in run support and coverage.
“We have a lot of good guys on the back end,” Smith said, asked about his role. “So we’re just rotating guys to see who best fits where.”
Smith hasn’t looked like the biggest, fastest or most athletic Georgia defensive back, nor has he resembled the sort of player who would earn All-American honors, as he did in 2020 at West Virginia.
But it’s also fair to say Bulldogs’ fans haven’t seen Smith at his best, as he’s dealt with foot and knee injuries that sent him to the sidelines, both requiring surgery.
Smith has bounced back and is going through his first session of spring drills, notably, no longer wearing a protective knee brace.
“My last time wearing the knee brace was in the national championship,” said Smith, who had a sack and two PBUs in the 65-7 CFP Championship Game win over TCU.
“It’s a blessing to be out there; I’ve never been through a spring before so it’s awesome to be fully healthy …. this is my first spring, so it’s another phase to learn the defense and get more comfortable and gain more confidence in my knee.”
Smith has had quite a journey to reach this point, so it’s a safe bet the Philadelphia high school product is playing with the sort of edge and hunger Smart wants to see.
It’s fair to say Smith was under fire upon arriving at UGA before the 2021 season with the Athens sun burning as hot as the spotlight that followed his anticipated arrival from West Virginia.
“When I first got here in 2021, fall camp getting the reps I was getting, I wasn’t used to the Georgia heat, this being my first time down South,” Smith said, asked about Smart calling him out on the microphone.
“I was kind of struggling with that heat during camp …. y’all did probably hear my name on that microphone when I was walking off the field, that was me.”
Smith has adjusted to Smart’s intensity and coaching style, learning to hear the message through the tone, and is eager to serve his “Why” on the football field.
“My biggest thing is my daughter back at home keeps me going,” Smith said. “That’s my motivation. I need to make sure I’m in position to be able to feed her.”
Smith has certainly put the work in, overcoming foot and knee surgeries in 2021 that limited him to just one game appearance, at Auburn.
Smith recorded three tackles against the Tigers, having overcome a foot injury that led him to miss the first five games.
But then the next week in practice, while preparing for Kentucky, Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Smith’s recovery window prevented him from having a healthy offseason, and he played last season in a knee brace not looking like the explosive player Smart had signed out of the Mountaineers’ program.
“I think I started getting back to myself toward the end of the season,” said Smith, who had a season-high six tackles in the win at Mississippi State. “I just wanted to help the team in whatever way possible.”
Smith is so keyed in on the present, he’s not looking back at the player he once was for comparison.
“I’m not really focused on the past, or trying to get back to the player I was,” Smith explained. “I’m trying to be the best version of myself and help the team any way possible.”
Current players who have spoken with media this spring:
• Carson Beck
• Brock Vandagriff
• Ladd McConkey
• Amarius Mims
• Kendall Milton
• Sedrick Van Pran
• Brock Bowers
• Tate Ratledge
• Arian Smith
• Javon Bullard
• Tykee Smith
• Zion Logue
• Kamari Lassiter
• Smael Mondon
• Nazir Stackhouse