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Growing up in inner-city Atlanta, Garrison Smith knows his life could have turned out a lot different than what it has.
When the senior defensive lineman reflects on his younger years, he can rattle off names of friends who took the wrong path, wound up in jail, or worse.
It's a message Smith is not shy about sharing, particularly with teammates who might be tempted to lean the other way.
"That's the main thing I've been emphasizing the most, trying to teach these guys to do the right thing. I'm just trying to push these guys just for character, just do the right thing. Not even for football, just for character, as a man," Smith said. "Don't get yourself in trouble because if you go on down the road with all these issues, even if it's for getting a job when you're done playing football, just make the right decisions."
Unfortunately, that hasn't always been the case in Athens.
Even now, sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons is suspended for the opener against Clemson for allegedly getting caught using marijuana along with Ty Flournoy-Smith, who is no longer with the team.
"You surround yourself with good people. Your friends back home, they might make the wrong decisions, use drugs or whatever but that doesn't mean you have to do the same thing," Smith said. "It's all about making the right decisions because those decisions affect you for the rest of your life. You look in the media, look at the (Aaron) Hernandez and what he's going through, same types of situation. You've got to think about our actions and think about the consequences."
Smith speaks from experience. He's seen first-hand what kind of consequences can result when wrong decisions are made.
"I tell them my own experiences and what I've been through, everything I've seen. I just try my best and pray, pray that I don't make the wrong decisions," he said. "I use my own brain. I don't follow anybody because if that was the case I'd been gone a long time ago, making the wrong decisions and I would have never made it here. That's what I try to tell everybody, be your own man and make your own decisions. You don't have to be cool and fit in with guys trying to do the wrong thing, make your own decisions."
Smith doesn't limit this message to teammates.
The former Douglass High standout speaks regularly to students in both Athens and Atlanta, urging them to take their lives into their own hands.
He's also on Twitter (GarrisonSmith56) spreading a positive message whenever he can.
"I'm just reflecting, just real thankful to God. When I look back on certain situations, if I would have did certain things I might not have made it to Georgia," Smith said. "I'm just thankful to God for allowing me to stay down with football, I just stay focused, kept doing well in school. I'm not in jail, I'm not dead. I'm just thankful to be alive."
Of course, Smith plays a pretty large role on the field, too.
A senior, Smith is now the unquestioned leader of the Bulldogs' defensive line, which features its share of newcomers who are being counted on fill in some major gaps and play major minutes this fall.
A couple of teammates have stood out.
"Jonathan Taylor has been working real hard," Smith said. "Everybody jokes that he's my protégé, we work out together, he competes with me, tries to out run me; he can't beat me though. I've got Michael Johnson speed, but he and Toby (Johnson) have been doing real good. You can't tell he's had any problems in the past. He looks 100 percent to me."
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