Defensive line coach Rodney Garner isn't one for passing out compliments like they were so many bouquets of artificial flowers.
So when he says sophomore defensive end Garrison Smith is "starting to see the light," it means something; particularly to Smith.
"He definitely right about that," Smith laughed. "Being in the system for a year now, just going through the hours of coaching, learning from the players, I totally understand what to do a lot better. I always had the God-given gift; it was just a matter of me putting it together, the other parts to it."
Although Garner isn't ready to give the former Douglass standout his official seal of approval, Smith appears entrenched as the top backup at left end behind starter Abry Jones.
That in itself has benefited Smith more than he can put into words.
"Most definitely: If you're going to have to play behind somebody Abry is a great one to do it because he can teach out a lot of things, and he has," Smith said. "His coach in high school taught him some great things, plus with what we've learned here, I've got a great opportunity to watch him play by being behind him. It's been a great opportunity to sit back, look at him and try to do things like he does."
Smith played in seven games for the Bulldogs last year, finally getting thrown in the fray Week 4 at Colorado.
The 6-foot-3, 295-pounder only contributed three tackles, prompting Garner to admit he probably should have been redshirted.
But Smith is not complaining.
"I'm glad I got to play, just the experience, even that I didn't play much at all, just to get the chance to go out there, see the speed of the game, I really felt like last year showed me what I had to do this year to be a better player," he said. "That last game last year against Central Florida, I felt like such a better player. I felt I knew what I was doing and I am trying to just carry that into this year."
Not that last year wasn't a difficult chore for Smith, who like many of his defensive teammates, were getting their first taste of the 3-4 scheme being installed by defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
"It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, just going from what you've been doing your whole life since middle school, playing football at Cascade Park, then coming to college and having to change everything, the way you play and the way you look at the game," Smith said. "It's very hard. It's still challenging. Still constantly have to remind myself to do it the right way instead of doing it the way I used to do it."
Getting used to life as a college freshman wasn't easy either.
"I tell everybody, it's such a shock coming from high school to college, lots of homework and mandatory things you have to deal with," he said. "Socially, it took me a whole year just to get adjusted. I literally had to do my work, do everything by the book, follow strict guidelines, just so I could get used to it."
He's having no such problems now.
As the Bulldogs count down the hours to Saturday night's kickoff against Boise State, it's a different Smith that plans on taking to the turf at the Georgia Dome.
You might say he's made a transformation.
"I'm not as nervous as I used to be, I'm more laid back, I've got a good grasp of everything and I'm ready to go," Smith said. "I'm the Incredible Hulk now."
Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at [email protected]