MONTEZUMA, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – More than half a dozen players on Georgia’s football roster are from middle Georgia, but there’s only one from Macon County: Roquan Smith.
“He was Macon County,” Larry Harold says. “He’s the reason why I have the good name that I have. I mean, he was a great kid.”
Harold, now the head coach at Central High School in Macon, met Smith in 2012. Harold was in his first season as head coach at Macon County. Smith was a sophomore in high school.
“In 2012 when I met him he was only 176 pounds,” Harold remembers. “His senior year he got up to 205.”
Smith, a junior linebacker for the Georgia Bulldogs, now weighs 230 pounds.
“I held him when he was three months old,” says Nathaniel Lamb, Smith’s grandfather. “Now, he can hold me.”
Smith’s mom, Shaquana Thomas, agrees.
“They put it on him fast,” she says. “When he’d come home people in the neighborhood would be like, ‘Gosh is that Roquan?’ And I was like, ‘Yes that’s Quan.’ And then when I actually hugged him and it took more for me to try to get around him, I was like, ‘You have gotten huge.'”
Smith has always been bigger than kids his age.
His mom remembers a recreation league football game in Montezuma long before his first plays as a Georgia Bulldog.
“It was a lot of chaos going on about, ‘That’s not the youngest son, that’s not Roquan, that’s the older brother.’ Me as the mother knew it was Roquan, because his brother was in a sling from a dislocated shoulder.”
Using his size and athletic ability to his advantage, Smith excelled in Macon County’s rec leagues. He later became a star at Macon County High School.
“They tried to get him to do different things in the community as far as hype or whatever,” says Gloria Story, Smith’s aunt. “But he was shy kind of. He didn’t like it.”
He was never one for hype, but there was definitely hype on one day: National Signing Day 2015. Roquan committed on national television to play for UCLA.
“When that happened, I think I went backwards,” Story says.
“If the camera had actually caught my face, my actual facial expression, a lot of us up there were like, you know, mouth open, eyes going back,” Thomas says.
This close-knit family was blindsided by the decision. Smith wasn’t quite sure about it himself.
“Throughout the day if it feels like home like it’s feeling now, I’m going to just roll with it,” he told me.
Two days later, he flipped his commitment to the University of Georgia.
“He’s the hardest worker and the best kid in the classroom as well,” Harold says. “You see that same thing carrying over at Georgia. I mean, he’s an Academic All-American since his freshman year, he’s a leader of the defense now. I’m just amazed at how he’s flourished on the next level.”
Smith has plenty of people to keep him grounded, including his aunt, who serves as his unofficial academic counselor.
They talk every Sunday.
“I don’t normally discuss football with him,” Story says. “My thing is football is good (but) there’s more to life than football. That career could end any time, so we constantly talk about lessons, grades. That’s what I push him on.”
It’s that kind of support that’s helped get Smith to where he is–a starter on Georgia’s football team with a cumulative grade point average of better than 3.0.
“He makes me feel so good,” says Betty Smith, Roquan’s grandmother. “I’ll be tingling on the inside, just to see him out there on that field.”
Smith is majoring in economics. He’s on track to graduate in December of 2018.