Humble Alabama WR DeVonta Smith not reveling in ‘The Catch’ ahead of rematch with Georgia

Alex Byington
Montgomery Advertiser
Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) celebrates game winning touchdown during the NCAA National Championship football game between Alabama and Georgia on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Atlanta, Ga.

ATLANTA — Sitting atop the back of a Chevrolet Camaro convertible, riding alongside teammate and local Louisiana product Shyheim Carter through the streets of tiny Amite, DeVonta Smith did his best to smile and wave like a true hometown hero during a parade this summer honoring their involvement in Alabama’s latest national championship.

But, from his seat in the front of the convertible, Vincent Sanders could only see the awkward discomfort in the Alabama receivers’ eyes, the embarrassment of celebrating a moment he’d long since moved past.

“Nah, that was awkward. … I could see it on their face as they were riding on the back of the car,” Sanders told the Montgomery Advertiser recently. “And people walking up to them, and they got their posters (for them to sign), and all that, it was awkward for them.”

The experience was especially difficult for the unassuming and usually quiet Smith, best known as the recipient of Tua Tagovailoa’s “second-and-26” 41-yard touchdown pass to win last season’s College Football Playoff national championship game. Alabama knocked off Georgia 26-23 in overtime on Jan. 8.

“Tay (Smith) gets so awkward, … he is so awkward when somebody’s like, ‘Hey, let me get your autograph.’ I just look at him and laugh, because to him, it’s like, ‘Yo man, I’m just like you,’” said Sanders, a well-known local barber and mentor to multiple athletes around Southeast Louisiana. “He’ll sign the autograph, but he’d rather they come up to him and be like, ‘Hey man, what do I need to do (to get better).’ I honestly believe if a fan came out there after the game and said, ‘DeVonta, show me how to run a hitch-and-go,’ he’d do it. ... He’s just a different kid, man.”

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) celebrates with teammates after scoring the game winning touchdowen in overtime at the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., on Monday January 8, 2018. (Mickey Welsh / Montgomery Advertiser)

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And make no mistake about it, the Crimson Tide’s speedy sophomore absolutely hates discussing “The Catch,” as it’s known throughout Alabama and parts of Louisiana.

Even now, as No. 1 Alabama (12-0, 8-0 SEC) prepares for a rematch against the East-winning Georgia (11-1, 7-1 SEC) in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game from Mercedes-Benz Stadium — the same site of last season’s national title game — Smith has rebuked every opportunity to revel in the iconic moment that would make most players’ careers, and may still define his.

“I mean, I don’t too much care about ‘the catch’ no more,” Smith said coldly following last Saturday’s 52-21 Iron Bowl win over rival Auburn. “It’s a new year, we’re really moving on.”

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) catches a p[ass against Missouri in first half action at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday October 13, 2018.

Sanders remembers Smith distancing himself from “the Catch” within the first couple of hours after he made it last January, preferring to focus on the perceived mistakes or errors he had in the game.

“He was like, ‘Man, I should’ve done this …, I should’ve done that,’” Sanders recalled of their meeting in the Alabama team hotel following the championship game. “He was breaking down things that he didn’t do (correct) in the game. He’s that type of person. But when things like that happen, the people from here that know him, we’re just like, ‘That’s DeVonta.’ His mind is different, man.”

It’s not that he’s doesn’t enjoy having been involved in an iconic moment in Alabama football lore, but Smith — nicknamed ‘Smitty’ by family, friends and teammates — sees no benefit in reveling in any single accomplishment, especially not when there’s opportunities to prepare and make more.

“He’s just a humble kid,” Sanders said of Smith. “It was a big play to everybody else, but to him, he’s like ‘That’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do.’”

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) scores the game winning touchdown in overtime against Georgia at the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., on Monday January 8, 2018. (Mickey Welsh / Montgomery Advertiser)

His own teammates even know not to bring up “the Catch” around Smitty.

“He has definitely moved on. It's in one ear and out the other,” Carter said Monday. “What happened happened, and after that, we celebrated for a little while and (then) it's time to move on.”

It’s a similar “on-to-the-next-game” mentality that Alabama coach Nick Saban has instilled in the Crimson Tide over its last decade of dominance, maintaining a sense of continual progression rather than allowing any one game or one moment to take away from the greater goal — in this case winning the national championship.

“I think not only with DeVonta, with all of our guys it’s a mindset where if it happens, it happens, (and) you move on,” Tagovailoa said Monday. “It’s good that it happened. We got to enjoy it, you know, for quite some time now. (But) it’s a new season.

“So everything that happened last year happened last year. We understand that it’s a new team. They have a new team. We got to prepare now. It’s a different ball game this time.”

That postseason mission begins anew in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game, where Smith is just one cog in Alabama’s conveyor belt of elite playmakers, especially given its loaded receivers room that features five players with at least 25 catches and five touchdowns on the season.

In fact, due to a midseason hamstring injury that seemed to linger, Smith is last among his fellow starting receivers with just 27 receptions for 498 yards and five touchdowns.

But as evidenced by his approach to “the Catch,” Smith isn’t caught up in individual accomplishments, not when there’s still more work to be done for both he and the team to achieve even greater things.

“He’s happy to just wake up every day, put in work and better his craft,” Sanders said.

It’s because of that drive that those closest to Smith have complete confidence his Alabama career won’t be defined by any one particular moment, but rather by the many more still yet to come, maybe even in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game.

"For me, knowing him for a long time, it's kind of like he was made for moments like that,” Carter said. “It wasn't surprising to me that he made 'The Catch,' it wasn't surprising at all. It's like he was built for moments like that. And I'm happy for him, proud of him."

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) catches a pass pout of bounds against Arkansas defensive back Jarques McClellion (24) during second half action in Fayetteville, Ark., on Saturday October 6, 2018.