Georgia’s Smael Mondon gains confidence daily in starting role

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Coming into the season, Georgia coach Kirby Smart had high praise for sophomore linebacker Smael Mondon, saying he’s “as good a athlete” as he has seen.

That’s quite the praise coming from a coach who has seen the likes of Roquan Smith, Azeez Ojulari, Monty Rice and Nakobe Dean come through the ranks.

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Knowing that level of confidence is hard to match, Mondon has continued to grow at the position this season.

He had to, given he was promoted to starting inside linebacker, opposite fellow sophomore Jamon Dumas-Johnson. He has started all eight games that he’s appeared in this season (missing two due to injury).

Smart has seen Mondon’s progression through the season as he has become more adjusted to his more prominent role.

“Probably maturity, being able to handle failure, mistakes,” Smart said of Mondon’s top area of growth this season. “He struggled a little bit in the Missouri game when he had the injury, he made a couple mental errors, and then he bounced back after the injury, and he’s played with a lot more confidence since then.”

Mondon agrees with Smart, to an extent.

“I would say my confidence level has grown the most this season,” Mondon said. “Going into this season, I had never started before, so now that I’ve seen what I can do, it’s given me confidence that I can build off.”

Also, Mondon’s increase in confidence didn’t come overnight or from a single play or game. Rather, it came over time.

“I can’t really necessarily think of like one play where I was just like ‘Alright, I’m here now,’” Mondon said. “It’s been gradual, over each game and building up little by little by little. At this point, I’ve seen what I can do.”

His motivation stemmed heavily from wanting to live up to the expectations of those around him, including Smart.

“Before I played my first game or started my first game, I didn’t want to be that guy to mess up,” Mondon said. “I didn’t want to let anybody down. But now, that’s not really something that’s on my mind. I’m moreso just trying to help the team out now, (rather than) not trying to let anybody down.”

His increase in confidence comes parallel with his production on the field. Mondon is Georgia’s third-leading tackler this season, with 41, even with him missing two games. He led the Bulldogs with eight tackles on Saturday in their 45-19 win at Mississippi State.

Mondon has been known for his struggles with injuries, dating back to his high school days. With his increased snaps while playing in the tough SEC, he has been paying close attention to body maintenance as the regular season starts to wind down.

“People say in the SEC, nobody is going to be fully healthy after that first game, so as far as dealing with your body, you have to get iced up more, and get your rest,” Mondon said. “I don’t think people take it into account as much, but sleep is a huge factor. I still get treatment because I like to be proactive with injuries rather than reactive. I just try to treat injuries before they get worse and become a lingering injury.”