It’s not the playing time that Maurice Smith is most thankful for.
The fact he was able to transfer to Georgia and carve out a role on defense is what he is most pleased with. And back when Smith first arrived to campus, that wasn’t seen as a guarantee.
Transferring in from Alabama, following a messy situation between Smith’s wish to transfer and head coach Nick Saban’s initial resistance to it, Smith first put on a Georgia practice jersey in August. A returning starter, Rico McGraw, was manning the nickel position head coach Kirby Smart placed Smith at, meaning the newcomer would have to beat out the incumbent.
But by the season opener against North Carolina, Smith earned a starting role. He never relented either, going the full 13 games as a starter. That was a stark contrast from being a rarely used rotational player on Alabama’s defense.
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“I don’t even look at the playing time,” Smith said. “I look at the fact I was able to make some type of impact on the team. Hopefully that will help (Georgia’s younger defensive backs) for later on coming down the road to understand the expectations. Overall, I think it was a great move.”
Through his final season of college eligibility, Smith went from special-teamer at Alabama to recording 50 tackles, two sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown against Auburn. His former teammates at Alabama reached out to Smith to congratulate him for the pick-six, as well as to thank him for helping Georgia beat Auburn to give the Crimson Tide the SEC West title.
Being able to put a full season of film together, Smith was able to draw more eyes from NFL teams about his pro potential.
“I still think I’m blessed, whether I get a shot at getting drafted or free agency,” Smith said. “I’m still going to work hard to make a team.”
With all 32 NFL teams represented at Georgia’s pro day a week ago, Smith scheduled a private workout with the Atlanta Falcons.
Having spent considerable time as a nickel defender, Smith offers some versatility as a cornerback who can play inside and outside in the secondary. Smith’s experience playing special teams at Alabama and Georgia could also aid Smith in his NFL pursuits.
“Most of the talk is keying on versatility,” Smith said. “With me playing different positions in the secondary, I feel like I can be that dude that can make a role on a roster basically.”
There were some stipulations in place for both Smith and the Georgia football program for the transfer to take place. Since it was an intraconference move, Smith was mandated to enroll in nine hours of graduate classes during the season.
Smith is required to complete his graduate program of public health before the 2018-19 academic year by the SEC. Otherwise, Georgia won’t be able to use a conditional waiver for an intraconference graduate transfer until Smith completes his graduate degree or the 2021-22 academic year.
But there may be a way around this, as Smart said that if Smith makes an NFL roster, the Bulldogs could apply for a waiver to avoid any punishment from the SEC.
“It’s a case by case basis,” Smart said. “The commissioner (Greg Sankey) understands that. He understands that’s the kid’s dream and what he wants to do. He’ll take that into consideration.”
Since the fall semester ended, Smith has been training with his father in Houston while taking two graduate program classes, biostatistics and gerontology, online.
Smith wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and hopes his pro day performance was good enough for NFL scouts and personnel. But before the pro day, it was likely that NFL front offices knew a lot more about Smith based on his season at Georgia than what transpired during his three years at Alabama.
“I’m very appreciative of the SEC finally giving me the opportunity to get here, the coaches who gave me the opportunities and even Coach Saban for letting me go eventually,” Smith said.