Transfer Tykee Smith ready to leave Philadelphia again for ‘big stage’ of UGA football

Marc Weiszer
Athens Banner-Herald
Nov 14, 2020; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers safety Tykee Smith (23) celebrates after defeating the TCU Horned Frogs at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Football practice for Tykee Smith meant going a couple of blocks away from his northwest Philadelphia high school, Imhotep Charter, to the Lonnie Young Recreation Center.

The field is uneven and isn’t lined. There are no goal posts. Players change in the baseball dugout area.

“Lonnie Young is good to us, don’t get me wrong,” said Devon Johnson, Imhotep’s head coach. “For the program that we had and the talent we’ve been able to put out, we don’t really have the facilities that one would think we would have.”

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Smith is part of that talent pool that has gone on to the next level.

“Most of the guys we kind of carry a chip on our shoulder, we’re kind of doubted,” Smith said. “Most people aren’t given the opportunity that I’m given.”

Smith signed with West Virginia in December of 2018 just weeks before coach Dana Holgerson left for Houston. He also considered North Carolina, Maryland, Syracuse, Michigan State and Baylor.

He was a three-star prospect but the second-highest rated recruit in that Mountaineer class, having built relationships with the staff after going to Morgantown for visits and 7-on-7 camps.

Now he’s embarking on a new chapter in his college career after choosing to transfer to Georgia, but one with an important tie in first-year Bulldogs defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae who coached him the two seasons at West Virginia.

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Now they will be together again in the powerhouse SEC.

Penn State, Mississippi State and Auburn were among others who pursued him.

“He’s always a kid that wants the challenge,” said Johnson, who was defensive backs coach and then defensive coordinator when Smith played for him. “I think he’s excited about being in the SEC now. He wanted to play on that big stage to be able to compete for conference titles and national titles.”

Johnson calls Smith one of the most competitive players he’s ever coached and said he’s embracing the expectations of joining the Bulldogs.

“I haven’t seen him this happy in a while,” he said.

Since going in the transfer portal on March 24, Smith has been back home in Philadelphia while he takes classes virtually and trains. He comes by Imhotep Charter,, attends practices and is on the sideline for games for a team that is playing a spring schedule this year.

“His memory is amazing.” Johnson said. “He came to practice and still remembers all of our calls. Not even just the general stuff, but the checks and everything like that.”

The Bulldogs were hit hard with departures in the secondary, but Smith brings experience as a two-year starter for the Mountaineers.

Johnson jumped on Zoom calls with schools pursuing Smith.

“Just making sure he got his questions answered and kind of just talking him through the process,” Johnson said.

Georgia sold Smith in multiple conversations that included Addae, coach Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning about how they would utilize him.

They talked to the 5-foot-10, 201-pound Smith about playing safety and the Star nickel position where he said Georgia said he’ll be able to cover and blitz “and just do different stuff with you.”

At West Virginia, he played the Spear, a hybrid nickel back and outside linebacker, making 61 tackles with two interceptions last season when he was a third-team AP All-American.

He was graded the nation’s top for slot coverage last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Honest, whatever he does, he’s a baller, man,” Johnson said. “I’m a thousand percent confident he’s going to deliver. He’s just got it. He’s that dog. It’s crazy that he’s going to the Dawgs because he’s a dog through and through. He’s a perfect fit. He’s somebody that’s going to compete every day with no fear.”

Smith was offered out of high school by SEC schools Missouri and Vanderbilt and now will play in the league.

“It’s going to be different,” Smith said. “A lot of teams in the SEC run a pro-style offense. A lot of teams in the Big 12 try to spread you out.”

He spoke on FaceTime to former Georgia defensive back Mark Webb and running back D’Andre Swift, both Philly guys, about what to expect with the Bulldogs.

Imhotep Charter reached the 2016 4A state championship game when Smith was a ninth grader still playing Pop Warner ball.

Days later, Smith was ready to work out with the team and opened eyes in the weight room. At the first 7-on-7 as a team, he snagged three interceptions and was on his way, leading the team in interceptions in his first season.

“We knew pretty early on he was going to be special,” Johnson said.

Besides playing safety, Smith played quarterback, receiver and running back, rushing for 253 yards and five touchdowns in a state playoff game.

Asked what he thinks he does well as a DB, Smith said: “I kind of diagnose the play before it happens.”

Smith, who goes by Tyk, said he’s hoping to get to Saturday’s G-Day game. If so, it will be his first trip to Georgia.

His new teammates are ready to welcome him.

“The little bit of film I have seen of him, he’s a spectacular player,” said safety Christopher Smith, who spoke to Smith before he committed.  “Real physical, real great at coverage. He can definitely help our team. …The competition is going to be increased in the room. It’s going to force all of us to play better including him.”