Kirby Smart was playing for Georgia when I was in school in Athens in the mid -1990s. I remember him as a fierce competitor. He was good, but not great, but he was smart and always seemed to be in the right place in the right time especially when the ball was tipped or deflected.
He played under Ray Goff (1995) and Jim Donnan (1996-98). For all of those who weren't around when No. 16 roamed the defensive backfield, here is a little recap:
Smart came to Georgia from Bainbridge High School. He was named Class AAAA first team by the AJC and Georgia's Sportswriters Association. He had 16 (maybe that's how he got his number) career interceptions in high school and as a senior he had eight picks as well as four fumble recoveries and four blocked punts. He was coached by his father, Sonny Smart. He also played basketball and baseball at Bainbridge before redshirting his first season in Athens in 1994.
Before the season began in 1995, Smart dominated G-Day as he had a pick-six, returning an interception 61 yards for a touchdown. He won the Most Improved Defensive Back award as was listed as the number two cornerback after spring behind Buster Owens. He switched to free safety for the regular season and got off to an incredible start to his career.
In his first game, the Dawgs faced South Carolina in Athens. Smart had six tackles and had sacked quarterback Steve Tanneyhill three times (he was the only Bulldog player all season to have more than two in a game). The next game, he didn't have a tackle, but he did have his first career interception. It came against future superstar and Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning. He had four tackles against New Mexico State in the following game and was solid the rest of the season.
That season, Smart played in all 11 games including two starts (Ole Miss and Florida). Smart had 26 tackles on the season good for 16th (there's that number again) place on the team. The three sacks and one interception I mentioned earlier were the only ones he had all season. He also had 15 kick returns and averaged 22.1 yards a return.
Like the season before, Smart thrived during the G-Day game, with two more interceptions including another pick six. He was listed as the No. 2 free safety after spring behind Corey Johnson. He had seven tackles in a game twice (Southern Miss and Auburn). He finished the season one place ahead of the season before. Despite not starting any game, he had 33 tackles and finished 15th on the team with an interception against former Heisman runner-up Joe Hamilton and Georgia Tech, a diving grab with less than two minutes left to go in the game in a nine-point win.
The 1997 season was a good year for the Dawgs. Georgia won 10 games and defeated Steve Spurrier and the Gators for the first time in the 1990s.
Smart had a very good year, earning the starting role at free safety. On the season he led Georgia and was tied for second in the SEC in interceptions with six, which featured three games that season in which he had two interceptions apiece. He was busy robbing South Carolina's quarterbacks Anthony Wright and Victor Penn (not to be confused with actress Robin Wright-Penn from Princess Bride and Forrest Gump fame). In the Kentucky game he intercepted future No. 1 pick overall in the NFL Draft Tim Couch twice. The next week against Florida he was at it again. He had two picks (one against Doug Johnson and one against Noah Brindise).
Since 1996, only two SEC players have had three multi-interception games in one season. Deon Grant of Tennessee in 1999 and Kirby Smart in 1997 for the Dawgs.
Smart also had nine tackles in a game against Tennessee and seven in games against South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida. He started every game and finished fifth on the team in tackles with 57. He also had a punt return for 11 yards in a game against Kentucky. He was named to the second-team All-SEC squad by the Associated Press at the end of the season.
It was in 1998, his senior season he switched positions once again, this time to strong safety. He was back to his old ways in the spring game notching ten tackles and grabbed another interception. Once again during the regular season, he led the team and was tied for second in the SEC in interceptions with five. He had a pick against Vanderbilt's David Wallace, Auburn's Gabe Gross, Ole Miss's Ramaro Miller and two more against Kentucky's Couch.
Smart had interceptions against three first round draft picks - Manning and Couch (in the NFL draft) and Gabe Gross (he was a first round draft pick, 15th overall by the Blue Jays in the MLB draft.
Smart also put some huge numbers in the tackling department. He had 17 in a game against Tennessee as well as 12 against LSU and Kentucky, 11 against Ole Miss and Georgia Tech and ten more against Florida. On the season he was second on the team (behind Orantes Grant) with 98. He was named the team's Most Outstanding Player on defense and was named first-team All-SEC by the AP and second team by the Coaches. He was also named one of the team's captains.
For his career, Smart played in 44 games, starting 24 of them (bowl games did not count back then). He had 13 career interceptions and 214 tackles. His 13 career picks is tied for fifth all-time at Georgia. Here are the top eight:
Jake Scott: 16 career interceptions
Bacarri Rambo: 16
Jeff Hipp: 14
Terry Hoage: 14
Kirby Smart: 13
Scott Woerner: 13
Jeff Sanchez: 13
Ben Smith: 13
He was also a four-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
His wife, the former Mary Beth Lycett played in 111 games and had 51 starts for Andy Landers' Lady Dogs. She played both guard and forward from the 1999-00 season to the 2002-03 season. She had 640 career points, 300 career rebounds, 196 career assists and 88 career steals. She added 117 career 3-pt field goals as well.