Sports

Smith proves he can shine on both sides of the ball for Bulldogs

Branden Smith is the fastest player on the Georgia roster.

Ask his teammates who would win in a footrace, and they point to him.

Reference his 61-yard reverse against South Carolina, and look up his high school track and field records.

Smith, a freshman cornerback, ran the fifth-fastest 100 meters (10.64 seconds) in Georgia high school history.

“I know that little joker is fast,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “That was one of the biggest celebrations we’ve had in the recruiting world was the day he told us he was coming. I knew that we were going to have to get him the ball on offense and special teams.”

Smith played every position while at Washington-Atlanta and committed to Georgia to play cornerback. His speed and athleticism made him an easy candidate to see time on offense, also making for an easy Champ Bailey comparison.

Smith spent time this summer with the versatile Georgia legend.

“It meant a lot because he’s been through it, and I’m trying to get through it,” Smith said of his time with Bailey. “I’m trying to get like him. He’s one of the greatest cornerbacks in the (SEC), and I’m trying to get there now.”

Bailey knew Smith had the blazing speed it takes to be a playmaker in the SEC. Bailey spoke to Smith about the mental side of the game, emphasizing preparation and complete understanding.

“He told me to take my time, be patient, learn from the veterans and study my playbook,” Smith said.

How many opportunities Smith would get with the ball in his hands was unknown entering the season. The coaching staff kept his use a secret.

In the season-opening loss against Oklahoma State, Smith had three rushes and one catch for a combined 14 yards. Two ill-advised kickoff returns out of the end zone had many questioning Smith’s judgment.

And the first time he touched the ball against South Carolina, on a kickoff return in the first quarter, Smith fumbled.

The Branden Smith project looked like a bust.

“It was a lot of pressure, but that’s what it takes. I had to step up and redeem myself, he said. “I’m only a freshman, but I just had to step my game up.”

Richt maintained his confidence in the speedster, inserting him on offense later in the half.

Sixty-one yards later, the fumble was an afterthought.

Smith lined up at receiver, took a pitch from running back Carlton Thomas on a reverse and was never touched.

Misdirection played a role in Smith’s initial seam. His speed made sure the run was finalized.

The run validated why Smith was still on the field, despite early struggles.

And also proved how lethal he could be, revealing endless possibilities on special teams and offense.

When asked if Smith’s role would increase, Richt said there was no doubt.

“I would think so, unless we recruit a boatload of guys that are better,” he said. “That would be a good problem.”

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