Sonny Smart talks chasing dreams at Rotary Club

Published 4:46 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Thirty-five years ago, Kirby Smart got out of a U-Haul truck on Forest Lane in Bainbridge.

His dad, Sonny, was hired to coach football at Bainbridge as a coordinator, and later a head coach. The Smarts were from Alabama, and didn’t know a soul outside Bainbridge head coach Ralph Jones.

It was 1982, and all a 6-year-old Kirby knew about Georgia were three things: the UGA Bulldogs were a good football team, Hershel Walker was the best player the country and the Atlanta Braves played about four hours north. Georgia played for a National Championship against Penn State that fall, and the Bearcats won the state championship. Kirby was immersed in the sport, and it was then he decided his dream would be to play football for the University of Georgia.

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Thirty-five years later, Kirby Smart got out of a bus and led the Georgia Bulldogs football team into the National Championship game as the head coach of his alma mater.

“I think there is message there, and an example there,” Sonny Smart said Tuesday as a special guest at Bainbridge Rotary Club on Tuesday. “I want you to hear four words. That’s what I came to tell you today. Dreams can come true. And Kirby Smart is a perfect example, because he had a dream.”

Earlier Tuesday, Smart had walked with Principal Larry Clark around Jones-Wheat Elementary, the same school Kirby attended. He looked at the 6-year-old kids and thought about the dreams they might have.

“Right now there are approximately 400 6 year olds in this county and city,” Smart said. “I assure you, every one of them is developing a dream.”

When Kirby told his parents he wanted to play for Georgia, Sonny and Sharon supported it, albeit carefully. They didn’t squash the dream of their young son, but they told him he would have to work hard to achieve it.

Preparation is what propelled Kirby Smart the past 35 years. From when he first began taking his conditioning seriously in seventh grade to when he got finally got his opportunity to join the Bulldogs football team. Despite a rough first year that never saw him dress out, he kept working hard, waiting for his opportunity. The next season, he got the nod to play on punt team and punt return team in the opener against South Carolina. He called his dad to share the news.

“The conversation I would never forget,” Smart said. “He said I am on the punt and punt return team, and I may get to play a little bit on defense depending on situations in the game. Then he said, ‘Dad, it doesn’t matter how much I play, when I run out on that field in silver britches, it’s going to be a dream come true’.”

Smart went on to rack up three sacks and multiple passes deflected against the Gamecocks. He was named First Team All SEC as a senior.

We don’t have control of when opportunities come, Smart said, but we can control our preparation, just like his son. A more recent example he gave was backup Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm taking over in the first game after starter Jacob Eason got injured. Fromm helped lead the Bulldogs to the National Championship.

Kirby Smart’s next dream was to play at the next level, in the NFL. Unfortunately, he wasn’t good enough, so his dream evolved. He wanted to coach in the SEC.

After coaching stints at Valdosta State and Florida State, Kirby received a call from coach Nick Saban at LSU to meet with him at the senior bowl in Mobile, Alabama. At the end of the day, Saban offered him a job as a defensive backs coach with the Tigers. The two coaches spent the next 11 years together, winning multiple national championships at Alabama. Finally, one day the opportunity to be the head coach at Georgia opened, and Kirby took it.

“I know that if you prepare and you are ready, the opportunities are coming,” Smart said. “It can happen, and Kirby Smart is a great example of that. Let me assure you. He is preparing right now for the next dream. The next dream almost happened in January. I think it is going to happen. I believe it is going to come true.”