Teammate's death leaves Georgia player emotional at combine

Georgia defensive lineman Nolan Smith speaks during a news conference at the NFL football scouting combine, Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

Nolan Smith poured out his heart Wednesday at the NFL’s annual scouting combine.

He shed some tears, too.

On a stage he’d always dreamed about taking, the former Georgia defensive star stood before a group of reporters and gave an emotional memorial about his friend and former college teammate, Devin Willock, who was killed in a car crash Jan. 15. Smith even apologized to Willock’s mother who has now had two sons die in traffic accidents.

“I’m sorry to his mama. No one should live like that, no one should deserve to die like that,” Smith said, breaking down. “I said it earlier, Devin, I love you baby, (No.) 77, you’re living forever. ‘Do it for Dev,’ that’s what I tell them boys at Georgia. ‘You lost a brother, do it for Dev.’”

Smith said he was speaking publicly for the first time about the fatal crash that also took the life of Georgia recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy — after the Cincinnati Bengals asked him about the crash during an interview Tuesday night.

Smith spoke to reporters about two hours prior to news breaking about an arrest warrant being issued for another ex-teammate, Jalen Carter, who was also allegedly involved in the crash. Carter has been widely regarded as one of the favorites to go No. 1 overall in April’s NFL draft.

Carter, one of six players who was not present Wednesday for scheduled interviews with reporters at the combine, issued a statement on his Twitter account saying he expects to be “fully exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing.”

Smith’s emotional plea stood in stark contrast to the usually rehearsed answers players give during their 15-minute back-and-forth with reporters.

And it came straight from the heart.

“They brought it up and I got emotional, too just because I care,” Smith said, referring to the Bengals. “Most people think it’s just a game, those are my brothers I go out there with. We eat together, we’re in the locker room together, we shower together, we get in the hot tub together. It’s more than a game. Most people think it’s just a game. Especially at Georgia, man, that connection piece is real.”

The police report listed excessive speed as the primary cause of the early morning crash less than two miles from the school’s campus in Athens, Georgia.

Willock was an offensive lineman on the Bulldogs’ back-to-back national championship teams.

“When you sit in a skull session with somebody and learn their life story, you will give them an extra inch,” Smith said. “You will come pick him up during a workout, and that’s what we do at Georgia. Any kid that goes there, they call me or ask me for anything, they know (No.) 4 is always going to be there. That’s what I tell them. ‘Come lean on 4.’”

Another former Georgia player injured in the crash, offensive lineman Warren McClendon, is expected to meet with reporters Saturday.