Georgia’s Nolan Smith readies for senior season with focus on leading teammates

Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith gives a Georgia fan a fist bump as he arrives for SEC Media Days in the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith gives a Georgia fan a fist bump as he arrives for SEC Media Days in the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

As his senior season with the Georgia Bulldogs approaches, outside linebacker Nolan Smith understands his role as a leader on a national championship-winning team is more than producing on the field. It also is keeping his younger teammates focused regardless of the doubts and pressure.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Bulldogs

Despite losing to Georgia in the College Football Playoff Championship game last season, Alabama has been favored by ESPN and many other outlets to bring home the 2023 title.

“I just think that as my team or as my guys, they should take that as a personal disrespect,” Smith told the media. “Like, you’re not good enough. And I just want them to live with that in their head every day, and I’ve been telling them; what we did last year, is last year.”

Smith played a large role in Georgia’s championship run. He concluded his junior season with the team’s fifth-best 56 tackles, 27 quarterback pressures and the team’s second-best nine tackles for loss. His most head-turning game came in the Orange Bowl semifinal against Michigan. He led the team with eight tackles and posted a career-high seven quarterback pressures.

“He’s one of these players that pushes our team,” coach Kirby Smart.

Although a record-breaking 15 players from the Bulldogs were taken in the 2022 NFL draft, Smith knew his time with the Bulldogs wasn’t over yet. He still has more to teach his teammates. Just as much as producing on the field is important, Smith knows what his team does off the field matters, too. One message he looks to tell the younger players in the locker room is something that he learned last year in the midst of college football’s changing landscape.

“Playing for your brother next to you,” Smith said. “Not playing for NIL. Not playing to go viral. Not playing for TikTok. Playing for the guy next to you and being able to push with him through tough situations, and in the game, that’ll be something that I’d love to take for the guy’s next year. Don’t play for NIL deals, don’t play for money. Play for the guy next to you, play for your ‘why.’”

As Smith’s final season opener is drawing near, against Oregon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 3, he remains hopeful in what this coming team will bring to the field as they look to defend their title.

“The buy-in is key. Once you have a bunch of guys that buy in and start pulling the rope in the same direction – as we say metaphorically – you get a lot of guys that want to pull that rope in that same direction. … This is the way we do things at Georgia.”

More from SEC Media Days

- Photos: National champion Bulldogs take stage at SEC Media Days

- Kirby Smart not ready to slow his roll with Georgia Bulldogs

- Still doubting Stetson Bennett? That’s fine with him

- 5 things we learned from Georgia’s turn at SEC Media Days

- Bradley: Next step for Smart, Bulldogs – total domination