Ever since he joined the Bears in 2018, Roquan Smith has often returned home to Macon County in central Georgia to give back to the community.
During his most recent visit a few weeks ago, the two-time All-Pro linebacker hosted a football camp for about 200 kids ages 5-17. This time, however, the small rural area where he grew up also gave back to him.
Macon County High School, where Smith built the foundation for a stellar football career that later took him to the University of Georgia and the NFL, retired the No. 1 jersey that he wore as a prep star.
"As a kid growing up in such a small town, in such a small rural area, it's crazy just knowing that no one will ever wear that jersey again," said Smith, who hails from Montezuma, Ga., a town with just under 3,000 residents.
"It seems so surreal. All the hard work you did in high school, college and even in the NFL, reflecting back on that is pretty sweet. I'm proud, but I have more work to do; I've got to keep making my town and county proud."
Smith's football camp was similar to the one he held in 2019, before it went on hiatus for two years due to COVID-19. He hopes to continue to stage one every summer to give kids not only fundamental lessons but to provide inspiration as well.
"I know when I was a little kid growing up in such a small town like that, if an NFL player came down and hosted a camp, I can only imagine the type of impact that it would have left on me," Smith said. "So, I just try to give back to our community because it definitely gave a lot to me. It's like I'm the face of that community and it's an honor to be down there and give those kids something to look forward to every year."
“I’m proud, but I have more work to do; I’ve got to keep making my town and county proud.” -Bears linebacker Roquan Smith
Smith awarded $10,000 in scholarship money to college-bound students who attended his camp, a gesture he intends to make again next year.
In addition to the camp, Smith has also given back by providing Thanksgiving meals to families and Christmas gifts such as remote control cars and dolls to 100 children. He also donated hundreds of protective masks during the pandemic.
Smith relishes being viewed as a role model, especially when he remembers how he felt the first time he met an NFL player. That individual was defensive end Ervin Baldwin, a Macon County native who had been selected in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft—ironically—by the Bears.
"When I was in fifth grade, he came to speak to us at the elementary school in front of the stage," Smith said. "I'll never forget that because I was such a young kid. I was like, 'Man, this guy's from the same town I'm from. I want to be in the NFL,' and seeing him do that [provided hope]. I remember everybody getting a piece of paper and getting his autograph. It was crazy."
Smith intends to host a football camp in Macon County every summer for the foreseeable future.
"I plan to do this every year I can while I'm playing because it makes such a positive impact on the community and the kids," he said. "Hearing what some of the parents had to say and some of the kids about how much they look forward to me coming down there, it makes your heart smile just knowing the type of impact I have on people."