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Roquan Smith grows up

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Roquan Smith stood tall in front of reporters during Saturday’s interview session with reporters here at the NFL Combine.

He looked right at home.

Why wouldn’t he? Projected by some as a possible Top 10 pick, Smith’s future couldn’t be much brighter.

However, his decision to leave Georgia wasn’t as easy as you might think.

“I struggled with the decision,” Smith said, talking publicly about his choice for the first time.

“We came up short in the national championship game and that played a big part in it. I wanted to finish my degree; that and the comradery – I love those guys,” he said. “It was going to be my last chance to be a kid and not worry about adult responsibilities, that kind of thing. I talked to many individuals who have left early and it was always how much they missed college, wishing they could go back one more time. All of that went into it, but at the end of the day, the pros outweighed the cons and it was in my best interest that I did leave.”

NFL teams are certainly glad that he did.

The Butkus Award winner has been described by some as the prototypical middle linebacker, one who can make an immediate contribution to whatever team happens to call his name.

“I feel I can help any team,” Smith said. “I feel like I’m a playmaker, I lead by example. I think I can elevate any defense.” He still pinches himself when he thinks about how far he’s come.

In high school, Smith played any number of positions on offense and defense before settling at linebacker when he arrived at Georgia.

“It was amazing. In high school I played defense as well as offense. I went both ways. I played receiver, running back; it was fun having the ball in my hands,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I felt I was a better fit at linebacker. I didn’t like to get hit; I preferred to give them.”

Smith certainly did plenty of that, leading Georgia in tackles each of the past two seasons.

His secret?

“Relentless pursuit,” he said. “I was always taught that nothing in life is promised and you have to take advantage of every opportunity,” he said. “You’ve got to play every play like it’s your last. If it’s your last play, how do you want to be remembered? That’s why I played every play like it was my last play.”

Smith believes his value goes beyond that. There are other attributes he brings he feels NFL teams will learn to appreciate.

“I truly care about my teammates on and off the field,” he said. “I’ll always be right there for them. Whether it’s on the field or off the field, I’ll be someone they can depend on.”

Former Bulldog Carolina Panther great Thomas Davis has had a tremendous impact on Smith.

I’ve definitely talked to Thomas Davis some,” Smith said. “I’ll talk more to him after this process, after everything dies down after the Combine. He’s been there for me before to give me some good advice. He tells the truth. He tells it how it is.”

Although he offered no details, Smith said he’s held formal meetings with “numerous” NFL teams. He didn’t take part in the bench press but will do so during Georgia’s pro day set for March 21.

Wherever he goes, Smith said he’s ready for the next step in his life.

“In college, you make the decision where you want to go. The NFL is not that way. You have to adjust. You don’t get a say where you are,” Smith said. “But you can’t fear change. In life, there’s going to be change at some point, so where I go is not a big deal.”

Smith just know wherever he does go, the team who selects him is going to be getting a talented player.

Of that, there is little doubt.

“I think everything speaks for itself,” he said. “I’m very instinctive, I move from sideline to sideline, I strike guys and make players. I’m a playmaker if you ask me.”

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Roquan Smith said leaving Georgia early was not an easy call.
Radi Nabulsi