How Just the Joy of Football Fuels Nolan Smith

March 26, 2018

BUFORD—With an opportunity to head to Oregon for The Opening camp on the line, dozens of the region's top players looked stiff and tense through drills. Nolan Smith, on the other hand, was having the opposite experience.


Shivering in the dreary 39-degree weather, it looked like Matt DeBary and I were on the brink of getting frostbite. Only a few short yards away though, Smith was having the time of his life (While wearing fewer layers, too). As Notorious B.IG.’s “Juicy” played over the speakers, Smith was singing along and grooving all by himself. But this wasn’t in between drills. It was hardly even between turns. Smith was only moments away from lining back up and going back at it in one-on-one pass rushing drills.


You would think a player of his caliber would be locked in thinking about what he needs to be doing better, what move he should use, etc. Except Smith doesn’t need to do that. He doesn’t need any time to prepare. By the time he’s lined up, he’s already won—And he knows it. Time after time Smith blew by opposing linemen. And after each win, Smith would go back to the side and pick up right where he left off with his Dancing with the Stars audition.


The way he danced in between reps may seem cocky or arrogant, but that’s Smith’s version of being locked in. When he’s boogieing around like that, he’s having fun. When he’s having fun, he’s confident in his game. When he’s confident in his game, he’s damn near impossible to stop.


You don’t hear about many players driven by fun. Football is a game though, and games are meant to be enjoyed. See, for Smith, football isn’t the savior of his life. As a high school junior, it’s not like he’s using football to put food on the table. Nah, as a kid, Smith is just trying to “have fun playing football.”


Even after he steps off the field after several hours of workouts, Smith has the biggest smile of anyone there—Parents and media included. But he still wasn’t done working. When the media swarmed the nation’s fifth-best player, he looked straight into one of the cameras and said, “Andrew Booth, I need you… You’re a DB. You’re an amazing DB. I need DBs.” Still, the biggest smile at the whole event ran on Smith’s face.


Because Smith is driven by fun. When he’s enjoying himself, that’s when he’s at his best. Whether that’s when he’s trying to get people to join him in Athens in 2019, or when he’s whoopin’ the ass of the tackle standing in his way, just the pure joy of this game and what comes with it drives Smith. And when he’s under the lights of Sanford stadium, that joy will still be there, just maybe with a worse soundtrack.  

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