It was a day or two into the brave new world of NIL when my phone buzzed. A notification flashed on my screen and suddenly I was chatting with UGA starting safety Christopher Smith II. A couple hours after reaching out to him about a partnership with Dawg Sports Live, we were on the phone. A few days later, we signed a deal.
Because of NIL, athletes who usually only speak to the media a couple times a year are now using their voices in many different ways. We sat down with Chris earlier this week to catch up on his offseason, how the team is coming together, and much more…
“We’re keeping the main thing the main thing.”
Christopher Smith will say this dozens of times over the next half-hour, but the first time he says it is in response to a question about how life has changed since the new NIL laws came into effect. Smith reminds us why we thought he’d be a great representative for our show when he says he is “grateful for all of my NIL opportunities… especially this one.” However it is clear that Chris has one thing and one thing only on his mind.
“We know our main goal is winning a National Championship and working on getting better everyday with my teammates. Chris then share some old soul wisdom. “I’m focusing on what I can control, and anything I can’t control is out of my hands.”
It’s that type of attitude that allowed him to calmly step in as Safety for four-year starter Richard LeCounte last season. Smith credits LeCounte, Mark Webb, Monty Rice and Nakobe Dean for helping to coach him up when he was pressed into action against Auburn following LeCounte’s ejection for targeting, but he also acknowledges that the coaching staff had been preparing him to play that week.
Smith has seen snaps in 24 games during his Georgia career, but was pressed into a starting role after a mid-season injury to four-year starter Richard LeCounte. Christopher excelled, only giving up 50 receiving yards on 263 coverage snaps in 2020.
Though his name isn’t mentioned as much as some other defenders in college football, the stats and game film say that Smith’s coverage skills are elite. A high-school cornerback, he tells us that he prides himself on his coverage. His play was strong over the end of the regular season, but by UGA’s Peach Bowl game against Cincinnati on New Year’s Day, Smith was playing fast.
“I feel like my IQ is very helpful to my game… I know that if I know what’s going to happen before it happens it can help me out during the play a lot.” The combination of starting reps in the SEC and a strong work ethic in the film room had Smith flying around against the Bearcats, coming downhill from his Safety position and crashing into ball carriers at the line of scrimmage.
Smith has spent the off-season refining his game. After experiencing life in the SEC he has spent time putting on pounds in the weight room to help him defend against the run. When you couple that with Smith’s voracious approach to studying film, it’s exciting to think about the player he could be for Georgia in 2021.
Chris is quick to point out the work that all of the Bulldogs have been putting in this off-season. “The team is looking amazing… I have ultimate confidence in our offense, our defense, and our special teams… a lot of the guys in the back end, Tykee, Derion, Lewis… They’re killer back there. We’ve got a lot of good guys in the back end… Nakobe Dean, Quay Walker. And then that front four of Travon Walker, Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt and Adam Anderson… I could go on and on about our team.”
Even some of the newest Bulldogs have made an impression on Smith. “Nyland Green, Kelee Ringo, Kamari Lassiter, Javon Bullard… all those guys. They’re amazing to be around and they’re all very hard workers. They take pride in their craft and their game.”
When it comes to the addition of transfers Tykee Smith and Derion Kendrick, Smith is thrilled. “We all come together and share our roles together in the back end.”
With all of that talent and all of the off-season hype around the Bulldogs, I asked Smith if the players feel any pressure. “We put more pressure on ourselves than anyone on the outside ever could. Our goal every year is to win a National Championship. We know how hard we work and we know where we want to be. We won’t settle for anything else… Our coaching staff and all of our guys always preach blocking out the outside noise… We gotta control what we can control. We always like to stay in-house with things and keep our mindset towards that one goal- National Championship. Everybody has that same expectation for us and that’s great, but we have that expectation for ourselves first and if we don’t achieve our goals we’re letting ourselves down first.
Georgia has had many talented teams over the years, but the ones that have been able to have the most success on the field seem to have had a closeness. Coach Smart has talked about the family dynamic that the 2017 team had and how it helped drive them to a conference title and a national championship game berth. So where are the 2021 Dawgs at in terms of those internal relationships?
“Our team is very, very close right now. There’s a lot of great camaraderie. We did a lot of activities over the spring and summer that helped build the connection within the team. So I feel like those things are very important and really pushed us to be very close to each other… You need that connection to be able to win. All of the great teams that I’ve ever seen, the majority of them have that connection within the players, and the coaches, and the staff, and all the way from top to the bottom. It’s definitely something we need and I feel like it’s definitely something that we have, and it’s going to help us throughout our season.”
With so much buzz around the opener against Clemson, we had to ask him if having the Tigers on the scheduler has helped in off-season prep.
“It helps, but we’re keeping the main thing the main thing. At the end of the day we want to reach the National Championship… Obviously, Clemson is a great, great program so we know what they bring to the table, but at the end of the day the National Championship is the main goal. That’s what’s going to keep us driving to get to the end of the season and I feel like everybody on our team holds that same weight. Everybody on our team wants to get to the National Championship. They know what it’s going to take for us to get there. That connection and that camaraderie that we build with each other is definitely going to help us get there too. We’re working hard everyday. I see a lot of guys after practice and 7-on-7 getting extra work. All of these things are going to build up, and all the games that we play throughout the season are going to help us get to where we want to go.”
Christopher Smith II and the Bulldogs know what they want, and they’re not afraid to work for it. If you’re a Bulldog fan, that should get you excited for the season to come. For the full interview with Chris, check out our podcast or the YouTube link below.
If you’re a business owner looking for an intelligent and thoughtful spokesperson to represent your company on and off the field, you won’t find anyone better than Christopher Smith. Stay tuned for info on how to buy Dawg Sports Live merchandise that Christopher will get a cut from, as well as how to purchase Christopher’s own items.