2023 NFL Draft

Interview: OLB Nolan Smith Defends Jalen Carter, Shows Maturity Beyond His Years At NFL Combine

Georgia OLB Nolan Smith is one remarkable human being.

Having completed the pre-draft profile on Smith, I was looking forward to talking to a player that had been lauded by his teammates and coaching staff at Georgia to see what the young man was like on the podium at center stage.

Right away, his passion and infectious personality stood out as he began the interview, calling himself the emotional leader of the team and a player that is grateful to get after it and play the game he so dearly loves.

“I’m going to just go naturally on my own,” Smith said to the media. “I wake up out of bed, juiced up. I’m ready. I’m just excited man. We play the best game in the world. I tell people, man, don’t ever get down on yourself. This is an amazing game.”

Watching Smith on tape, you see that emotion and passion for the game of football make itself evident on the football field. He plays with relentless effort as a run defender as well as a pass rusher, going 100 mph to try and make a play for his teammates as a strong, powerful edge rusher.

Smith spoke to the media just minutes before the Jalen Carter news broke this morning, but the question was raised about his teammate and potential character concerns that have been floated around during the pre-draft process.

“He’s misunderstood man,” Smith said. “You think that my dog worried about first round brazen? No man, my dog love football and he loved being out there playing with us. And that’s what I say, a lot of people put bad lights on him and stuff like that, man, he wasn’t worrying about 40 snaps or 50 snaps or getting to the league or none of that. It bothers me deeply because people just don’t know. Like if you question somebody’s character, especially like if you question my character, I feel like that’s an insult and I hope you ready to fight if you question my character.”

As Alex Kozora recently highlighted on the site, an arrest warrant has been issued for Georgia DL Jalen Carter, widely considered to be one of the top prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, for reckless driving and driving related to the death of teammate Devin Willock and staffer Chandler LeCroy in January. Smith broke tears speaking about the event for the first time, speaking about his relationship with Willcox, speaking with pure emotion and love for his teammate that has since passed, but will never be forgotten.

“That’s my, that’s my guy, you know, and that’s one person that never did anything wrong,” Smith said. “I get sensitive talking about it just because I love him and was supposed to graduate. Most people don’t know his, his brother passed like that. No one should deserve to die like that. Devin, I love you baby. #77, you are living forever. You know, do it for Dev. That’s what I tell ’em boys at Georgia. You lost the brother. Do it for Dev. I’m sorry to get emotional man. I’m the juice guy man. This is my first time talking about it. Cincinnati, they brought it up and I got emotional too just because I care.”

Smith spoke like a man well beyond his years during his time with the media, conducting himself like a true professional amidst the news of Carter swirling as well as fighting back the raw emotion of losing a close teammate of his. Whatever team Smith goes to is going to get a phenomenal man with the type of character you want to have as a leader in the locker room.

“So, it’s, it’s more than a game, Smith continued. “Most people think it’s just a game. But especially at Georgia, man, that connection is special when you sit in a school session with somebody and learn they life story, you will give them an extra inch. You will come pick him up during the workout. And that’s what we do at Georgia. Any kid that goes there, if they call me and ask me for anything, they know #4 always going to be there. That’s what I tell em. Come lean on #4.”

Smith was lost halfway in the 2022 to a pec tear that effectively ended his 2022 campaign. It pained him to not be able to take the field with his brothers as the Bulldogs went on to win their second-straight National Championship, but Smith once again showed maturity beyond his years and learned his true calling after his football career is done: impacting other young men’s’ lives as a future coach.

“What I learned about myself is I want to be a coach and affect kids’ life in a positive way,” Smith said. “I may start off in high school, I want to start off small so I can actually affect kids. A lot of people say that, and they don’t really do it, and I think high school level is where you can affect them. What I learned about myself is no matter what adversity… you got to push through and like I was telling people; I wasn’t going to give up on myself. I wasn’t going to give up on the team. I was going to do everything that I can to just be with them, and I was a glorified GA, and it was the best GA job ever.”

Nolan Smith is an undersized EDGE rusher for NFL standards, lacking ideal size and mass to consistently win on the edge. He appears more like a tweener, having the body type and traits to play more off-ball, but appears set on playing on the edge at the next level. While he still needs to grow into his frame more and develop more as a pass rusher, I cannot stress how bad I would bang the table for a player like Nolan Smith to be on my football team.

Nolan Smith deeply cares about his teammates, coaches, opponents, and the game of football as a whole. He is a gifted athlete and a tenacious worker, having faced adversity with injury, a talented depth chart, and loss on the team, and has only used those experiences to make him into a better player and man. His future impact on the field is up for debate, but he will be quite the get for any team that takes a chance on him. According to Smith, that could be the Steelers as he considers Mike Tomlin one of his role models.

“Man, I did speak to the Steelers and that’s one of my coaches that I watched growing up and he impacted my life just on the game as a young kid,” Smith said. “I told him that when I first met him, he probably thought I was a fanboy, but I was going to be honest in all my interviews. I was honest and myself and him and Coach Reid, you know, I watched Coach Reid, what he did on offense at Philly and what he’s doing with the Chiefs now. He’s infected the game. Those people infected our game, and you just have to tell them that you just can’t walk in. ‘Oh yes sir’, they’re coaches and they’re people too. I just want to let them know how much they affected my life just as a football player.”

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