Aug. 30, 2001
ATLANTA – By Jack Williams
Georgia Tech’s sophomore linebacker Daryl Smith learned in a hurry last football season one sure way to attract the attention of all the fans who cheer for the Yellow Jackets. He got the message in about 10 seconds, give or take a little.
That’s how long it took him to race 70 yards with an intercepted pass for a touchdown that helped Tech beat arch-rival Georgia, 27-15, in Athens. Believe me, Smith has been hearing echoes from the cheers of that moment ever since.
“Everywhere I go, that’s all people want to talk about,” Smith said this week. “They stop me on the street and say, ‘Yeah, there’s the Georgia game man.'”
Smith, a 6-2, 225-pound blockbuster from Albany, Ga., seems genuinely embarrassed by all the attention. Besides, he has his mind on some other football missions these days.
He started the new season last Sunday with 10 tackles, including two for losses, in the Jackets’ 13-7 victory over Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Now Smith and his teammates turn their attention to the home opener Saturday afternoon at 6 p.m. against The Citadel at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field.
It has not taken Tech fans long to determine that Smith is no ordinary football player. Although he did not start until the fourth game of last season, he wound up the year as the Jackets’ leading tackler with 96. He had four quarterback sacks and 10 tackles for losses. Incidentally, in that win over Georgia, Smith made a season-high 16 tackles, two for losses, and broke up three passes. He made Freshman All-America teams picked by Football News and The Sporting News.
And get this! Smith says he feels he’s a better player now, thanks to 13 games under defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Ted Roof. “Coach is very intense,” Smith said. “He always tells it like it is. I’ve learned a lot under him and am still learning. Perhaps my biggest improvement so far is in pass coverage. That’s the toughest thing for a linebacker.”
Smith believes the Tech defense, as a whole, has a chance to be much improved this season. “I thought we tackled well in the Syracuse game, especially since it was our first start,” he said. “We had our ups and downs in that game, but we’re going to keep working and get better. We’ll get it right.”
There is no question that football is a way of life with Smith. “My strong suits are determination and will,” he says. “When I’m out there, nothing is as important to me as making the play.”
Smith has been “making the play’ in successful fashion for a long time. He started playing football when he was eight years old and went on to star for a Dougherty County High School team under coach John Reynolds. Dougherty won the AAA state championship in Smith’s junior season, finishing the year with a 13-2 record.
In the State semifinals against Cairo, Smith recovered a fumble in the end zone to ensure victory. Then Dougherty went on to defeat Peach County for the title.
As a high schooler, Smith played on both sides of the ball. He always was a linebacker on defense, but played three different positions, fullback, tight end and guard, on offense.
In Smith’s senior season, the recruiters were lined up at his door. “I could have gone most anywhere I wanted,” he said. “I finally narrowed it down to four schools-Georgia Tech, Georgia, Florida and Florida State. When I visited Tech, I knew this was the place for me. I liked the coaches and the players very much.”
In his freshman season on the Flats, Smith seemed to be at his best in the biggest games. The performance against Georgia capped it all, of course, but he also had a dynamic day at Clemson when Tech won, 31-28. In that game, Smith had 10 tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery that set up a field goal.
“They’re still young with a lot of growing to do,” the coach says. “There’s not one senior out there. It’s all sophomores and juniors. There is no question they have the ability to be a really good group. Daryl Smith, for one, is making big strides. When you get guys who can run, I think they’re going to play pretty good defense.”
Smith is making big strides, too, in the Tech classroom. He majors in biology and plans, at some point in time, to study physical therapy. “When my football days are over, I would like to have a career as a physical therapist,” he said.
Daryl has very close family ties. He follows closely the athletic pursuits of his 15-year-old sister, Danielle, who plays both basketball and softball in high school. Daryl’s favorite hobby is fishing alongside his father, Dan.
Meanwhile, Daryl Smith is busy fishing for some more success on the football field. Maybe, there’s another 70-yard interception return in his future.