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Roquan Smith, an All-Time UGA Great

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Though the all-everything Bulldog won't have a seat at the Heisman Trophy presentation, Roquan Smith already has his own place in history.

That guy does not miss tackles, he has his techniques down, you rarely see him out of position.
~Rennie Curran

Georgia has had some legendary linebackers come through Athens, names like Boss Bailey, Knox Culpepper, Rennie Curran, Jarvis Jones and Ben Zambiasi, among others. Perhaps none have done what Roquan Smith is currently doing. The all-everything junior leads the SEC with 72 solo tackles, serving, more importantly, as the catalyst of a unit that ranks third nationally in scoring defense and fourth in total defense. Smith now leads the league champion Bulldogs into the College Football Playoff.

Recently, Smith became Georgia's first-ever winner of the Butkus Award, an honor given to the nation's top linebacker. He was also just named the AP Defensive Player of the Year. Even more recognition is likely coming Smith's way. Though the all-everything Bulldog won't have a seat at the Heisman Trophy presentation, Smith already has his own place in history.  

Smith, over his last 15 games, has 139 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, eight quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. This fall, he is the driving force behind a Georgia defense that is currently setting a modern-schedule program record, allowing just 13.2 points per game. The Bulldogs slot either first or second in the conference in the four major defensive statistical categories, all with Smith out in front.

In the SEC Championship Game rematch with Auburn, Georgia's biggest game of the season to date, Smith was at his absolute best. The Montezuma-native paced the Bulldogs with 13 total stops, two tackles for loss, two critical fumble recoveries and a sack. Smith was named the game MVP, just the fourth defensive player and second linebacker to earn that achievement.

The rise of Roquan is one that has changed college football and impressed some of UGA's all-time greats.

"Just to see what he has done on a defense as talented as ours, for him to still have one-hundred tackles is really impressive," Curran explained. "The biggest thing that impresses me about him is consistency. That guy does not miss tackles, he has his techniques down, you rarely see him out of position."

There isn't an area where Smith isn't elite. He is a true every-down, all-situations defender in an era of specialization. Per Pro Football Focus, Smith has missed just two tackles against the pass, and has not yet missed a single tackle against the run, this season. Almost nothing gets past Smith, which is why no power five conference team has allowed fewer gains of ten yards or more than Georgia, even with a 13th game.   

To say Smith is the prototype might atually be limiting. He is the perfect blend of athleticism and awareness. After Saturday, he is a hard-hitter with hardware.

"He is an amazing player who flies sideline-to-sideline and is just a leader as well, which I think is the most important thing," Curran continued.

Smith is expanding a proud legacy of star linebackers at UGA, both honoring the past and stirring the future along the way. 

"I tell him all of the time that we are all proud of him. It's definitely a great thing for recruiting when you have a guy like Roquan," Curran added. "I'm excited to see the next great generation that will follow after him. There is always somebody that gets inspired by that and wants to come to Georgia because they see Roquan Smith."

This fall, Smith has helped set the tone for his 12-1 team, one fresh off a conference championship and ready for a final four pairing with Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma. With another victory, the Bulldogs would tie a school record for wins; with two more, they would claim a national title. This is a run for the record books for both Smith and Georgia.    

Literally and figuratively, Smith's next step will be a poignant one. In 2015, he committed to UCLA on signing day before later inking with the Bulldogs. Smith will now play on the home field of the team he once expected to suit up for, only this time in Georgia's first Rose Bowl appearance in 75 years and the Bulldogs' first-ever game against Oklahoma. Not long ago, Smith nearly went to Pasadena as one of the premier high school linebackers in the country; soon, he will head to California as college football's best.

As Georgia chases history, Smith is in full pursuit.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports