A little over
two weeks after his final game as a Georgia Bulldog, the mayors of Savannah and
Garden City, Ga., issued a proclamation declaring Jan. 17, 1972, as "Royce
Smith Day" in his hometown community of Chatham County on Georgia's coast.
His success story actually began
eight years earlier, as a ninth grader at Groves
High School in Garden City, Ga., on the outskirts of Savannah.
He decided to take the advice of Groves
football coach Jack Miller--give up basketball, get into a weight-lifting
program and concentrate on football.
lifting weights three hours a day and to stay in shape for football, he also
went out for track. Playing tight end
initially, Smith made a name for himself and after his junior season, University of Georgia assistant coach John Donaldson
expressed interest in the youngster.
Smith doubted he could play
college football. But Miller told him he
could do it if he worked for it. Smith
took him at his word and worked hard in the weight room during his senior
season. Despite the fact that few
schools showed interest, Georgia
coach Vince Dooley and Donaldson still liked the way he played football and
signed him to be a Bulldog.
He arrived in
Athens weighing 190 pounds and the Georgia coaches
quickly determined his best chance for playing would be at offensive
guard. He re-committed himself to the
weight room and rose to 6-3, 250 pounds but could still run the 40-yard dash in
4.8 seconds--the fastest for a Georgia
lineman. And he could bench press a
then-Georgia record 430 pounds.
His play on
the field produced an All-America career as an offensive guard which ended in
1971 with an 11-1 record and Gator Bowl victory over North Carolina. His senior season was highlighted by
selection to 12 All-America
first teams. He was also named a consensus All-Southeastern Conference player,
earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl post-season all-star game, was selected
as the winner of the Jacobs Blocking Award as the SEC's outstanding blocker,
and was elected by his teammates as the 1971 Bulldog team captain--all in the
span of a month!
It all paved
the way for his selection a few months later in the first round of the NFL
draft by the New Orleans Saints where he would play before closing his career
with the Atlanta Falcons. In 1995, he
was inducted into the State of Georgia
Sports Hall of Fame.
Smith passed away unexpectedly in January, 2004, at the age of 54.
On that Royce
Smith Day in Savannah
and Garden City back in 1972, a poem written by David C. Barrow, Jr., was
presented at the banquet. The final two
proud of this young man,
We honor here tonight,
Who's famous now from Rabun Gap,
Right down to Tybee Light.
“In years to come when he looks back,
And thinks about this day,
Royce will know we honored him,
Because he led the way.”