Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith played at an All-America level for so much of this season that it seemed like he already had checked that off his list of accolades.
The junior now is officially an All-American after being selected Thursday to Sports Illustrated’s first team. He likely received similar recognition Thursday night when the Walter Camp All-America team was announced.
Smith is the first Georgia player to be named an All-American since linebacker Jarvis Jones in 2012.
Smith is a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award for nation’s college defensive player of the year. David Pollack, the former Georgia defensive end and 2004 Bednarik winner, will announce this year’s winner during the College Football Awards at the College Football Hall of Fame.
A Montezuma native, Smith was surprised in front of family and friends to be named the Butkus Award winner for nation’s top linebacker on Sunday at the Georgia team gala — “a pretty special moment,” he said. He was in Charlotte Monday as a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award for top defensive player that was won by N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb and was named this week as SEC defensive player of the year by the Associated Press and league coaches. Smith was named SEC championship MVP after helping to lead the Bulldogs to their first league title since 2005 and the program’s first spot in the College Football Playoff.
“It’s been pretty crazy. A lot of dreams came true,” Smith said Wednesday evening, after joining the nation’s top players in Atlanta the night before the awards show. “We busted our tails for a lot of things that we’re receiving now. It’s pretty awesome to have this feeling.”
Smith leads Georgia for the second consecutive season in tackles. He has 113 tackles, a team-leading 5 ½ sacks with two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
“Unbelievable player; a guy who’s always around the ball,” said Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who will go up against Georgia in the Rose Bowl. “His stats show that, but then you watch the film and you really see how much of an impact he makes on the field. Teams have tried to gameplan to make sure he’s not a factor, but he always makes sure he is the factor.”
“He’s almost like a quarterback who just seems to be in command of an offense, he’s in command of a defense,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “He’s kind of a mouthpiece. He’s the guy who connects the coaching staff to the players on the field.”
Smith was joined on the SI list by Georgia senior offensive left tackle Isaiah Wynn, who was selected a second-team All-American.
The next game for Smith and the Bulldogs is the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 in the national semifinals.
“We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “We’re not going to back down from anyone. We feel like we’re Georgia. We have a great defense. They have a great offense. … It will be a great challenge for our defense.”
Smith is projected as an NFL first-round draft pick by analysts if he leaves after this season, but he said he’s not thinking about that now.
“I haven’t thought much about it,” he said. “Just moreso enjoying this ride with my teammates.”