Coming into this season, Georgia defensive back Nolan Smith had a lot of buzz surrounding him. It’s safe to say that Smith lived up those standards during his freshman year.
According to 247Sports, Smith was the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in the 2019 class. He enrolled early and started taking classes in the spring of this year, and from the minute he stepped foot on campus he acquired a lot of attention.
Smith practiced well throughout the spring and fall camps and made his debut as a Bulldog when the team traveled to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt in Aug, 31st.
Smith displayed his pure athletic ability throughout the season and played a pivotal role on Georgia’s defense, which ended up being one of the best in the country.
Earlier this season, Kirby Smart talked about Smith’s eagerness to learn and develop his game.
“Nolan is smart, Nolan listens, so when you give Nolan a plan and say, ‘This is the way I want you to rush on this defense,’ or ‘This is the way I want you to rush on this particular tackle,’ he does it,” Smart said earlier this season. “He applies what he learned. He plays with just maximum effort. He’s like a wild man, hair on fire.”
Smart also labeled him a leader in the locker room, despite him being so young.
“I’ve got little brothers back home and when mom tells us we can’t do something and they get sad, I’m used to having to go a different route and having to do something different just to keep it going,” Smith said after Georgia’s 37-10 loss to LSU. “That’s the same way here. These guys are like my brothers so when they’re down and stuff, I try to pick them up. I just think that there’s no way possible that one game defines our life, that one game defines this or one game defines that.”
Smith’s matureness and positive attitude helped him earn playing time in all 12 regular-season games and in the SEC Championship game. Smith finished the year with 16 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks for a loss of 19 total yards, 15 quarterback hurries, and one pass breakup. Smith had a career-high three tackles in games against Murray State and Georgia Tech.
Smith’s biggest contribution of the year was against Notre Dame on the final offensive play of the game in Georgia’s 23-17 win. He was brought in the game as a situational player, and because of his great ability to get after the quarterback. During that play, Smith exploded off the ball and was able to get enough pressure on Notre Dame’s Ian Book to force him to make a terrible pass.
“A lot of football is effort. You can take 10 five-stars, and 10 three-stars and you go out there and put one other guy on the team to make 11 and the team that plays the hardest usually finds a way to win the game, and that’s what Nolan does. He plays hard. That makes football important to him. It allows us to play in a lot of situational football. He’s got to continue to do that.”
Smith’s stats might not jump off the page, but his effort and grit for the game has been felt by his team and coaches.
Former Georgia football player and ESPN personality David Pollack spoke highly of Smith during press interviews the day before the Notre Dame game back in September at the College GameDay set.
“Nolan Smith is a freak-a-leek,” said Pollack. “You watch number 4, and you’re going to see all you can see. He is a beast. He’s one of my favorite players i’ve studied so far on tape. I mean we’re talking about a true freshman, and he’s going to be unbelievable. He’s got a motor first of all, and you can tell he loves the game. But if you watch him run over offensive tackles so far this season, and I know the competition hasn’t been great, but he’s an adult. He can sit at the big boy table and i’d play with that dude anytime.”Pollack’s interview
Smith, an IMG product, is a 6-foot-3 245-pound mammoth that will be causing opposing offensive linemen nightmares for years to come during his career in Athens.