September 27, 2012

Smith a 'Survivor'

If there's one word to describe junior defensive end Garrison Smith, survivor would be quite apropos.

The Atlanta native doesn't disagree.

"I'm from the inner-city. You've got to do whatever you can to survive," Smith said during an interview earlier this week with UGASports. "That's kind of how I approach football; I've got to do whatever I can to make it."

He's also determined to help others to the same.

A graduate of Douglass High, Smith said he was fortunate in many respects.

With a strong family support system, the 6-foot-3, 295-pounder concedes he had a lot of help to make it out of his childhood surroundings, and turn him into the type of young man everyone in his community can be proud of.

"I try to tell all my friends, all the kids that I knew back in Atlanta growing up that I'm living proof that you can make it out of the city and do something positive," Smith said. "You don't have to rob, steal and kill - a lot of my friends did that."

Smith isn't kidding.

Back home can be a dangerous place to be.

"I had a friend; he got murdered at a gas station at 3 p.m. It hurt. I'm losing guys every day. I've got another friend who got shot last weekend. He's survived, but he's at Grady (Hospital) right now," Smith said. "It's real out there, that's why I go so hard because you only get one opportunity and I'm just trying to make the most of it."

Smith is doing just that on and off the field.

Inducted in to Georgia's Student-Athlete Leadership Academy known as L.E.A.D (Leadership, Education and Development), Smith's off-the-field exploits mirror the hard work he continues to put in on the field as one of the key members of the Bulldogs' defensive line.

Smith found his way. Now he wants to make sure other inner-city youngsters do the same.

"I love talking to high school kids, just kids from Atlanta, inner-city kids in general. I love talking to middle school kids, elementary school kids, … anyone that will listen because I want them to make it out," Smith said. "Kids get lost in these streets all the time, and you can use this tool - football - to keep you out of the streets. That's what I did, it used it to keep me out of trouble, keep me on a straighter path, the straight and narrow. I just try to use that as advice for other kids growing up. I try to tell them they can do the same thing; make something of themselves."

Smith readily admits he didn't grow up an angel.

"I had a lot of trouble; I was doing stupid stuff. I wanted to run with those other kids, do a lot of the things they were doing, getting money …" Smith said. "Have you ever seen $100,000 in cash? That's something that will make you very curious. But I was lucky. I had family stay on me, my parents … my grandparents. They were critical in my life. They're the ones who kept me from doing wrong, kept me humble."

Smith hates to even think what might have happened if they had not.

He knows he would not be in the position he is now.

"I think about that all the time and I just thank God all the time," he said. "Without football, I don't know were I'd be. Some of my friends aren't here no more. There's no telling what I would have gotten into if I was not playing football or working out. Where I'm from, there's just so much that you can get into."

That's why Smith already has plans to help out after his playing days are through, hopefully after a long and successful career in the NFL.

"I'd love to start a charity for boys and girls, start some out-of-school program to help keep them out of trouble, have events for them on the weekends, have enough food for them to eat," Smith said. "There are a lot of hungry people out there. A lot of my friends don't get to eat every night, stuff like that. It's a tough world. Everything's not all jolly; there's some real stuff going on out there that people don't know about. I just want to be able to help."