May 11, 2009

Smith expects to shine on both sides of ball

JEFFERSON - Branden Smith has yet to play a down for the Georgia Bulldogs, but already the incoming freshman is being hailed as the next Champ Bailey.

It's a comparison the former Washington High star relishes.

So imagine Smith's delight when Bailey asked him to attend a camp to work out with the current NFL star before reporting to Athens in June.

Turns out, Bailey won't be the only star there. Other instructors in the week-long camp being held in Phoenix, Az. include former Deion Sanders and wide receiver Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears, arguably the top return man in the NFL.

"You work with the best, you become the best," said Smith during a break at Saturday's state track meet in Jefferson. "I want to be the best."

But Smith realizes he can't get complacent. He only needs to look at his performance in the 200 meter finals to see that.

Smith came into the meet with the state's fastest time in the 200 at 21.270, but finished fourth in the Class AAA finals with a 21.92.

"I was disappointed in myself," Smith said. "I didn't work hard enough in practice. I thought I could just come out and win it all. It turns out I really needed more practice. Practice makes perfect."

That won't be a problem when it comes to football.

Smith said he's been given both the Bulldogs' defensive and offensive playbooks to study, as coaches fully intend to let him play on both sides of the ball, plus a full slate of special teams duties returning kicks and punts.

"Pretty much all the schools who recruited me told me said they wanted me to play both offense and defense," Smith said. "It's nothing new to me."

It just takes a quick look at Smith's senior season stats to realize why he's getting the opportunity.

Last year, the five-star prospect caught 32 passes for 1,085 yards (33.9 average), returned 12 kickoffs for 481 yards and three touchdowns and brought back 20 punts for 456 yards and two scores.

Defensively, the cornerback made 50 tackles, had one sack, two fumble recoveries and picked off two passes.

"Whatever the coaches at Georgia want met to do, I'm going to do," Smith said. "People say I'm the next Champ Bailey. I'm looking forward to proving them correct."

Although Smith knows he still has a lot to prove, he said he's looking forward to competing with Brandon Boykin for the starting short corner position left vacant when Asher Allen decided to leave early for the NFL.

"I'm ready to compete for the job," Smith said. "I know I've got to go in and prove myself to everyone, but I think I'm ready for that. I know as a freshman I have to come in and prove myself all over again, but that's fine. I'm ready to compete. I know everyone has high expectations of me and I'm going to try and prove them right by being the best I can at my position."

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