Gophers running back Rodney Smith and linebacker Jonathan Celestin are best friends and former teammates from Mundy’s Mill High School in Jonesboro, Ga.

As seniors, they helped their team rebound from an 0-4 start to an 8-5 finish, which was the best in school history. Smith was the first to commit to the Gophers, but Celestin was the first one to make his mark in Minnesota.

Smith redshirted last year, while Celestin played in 11 games, notching 16 tackles. Now, Smith is the starting tailback, while Celestin remains a reserve.

“Jon’s a very positive guy,” Smith said. “He knows he has an NFL-caliber linebacker [senior De’Vondre Campbell] in front of him, and you just have to sit back and wait your turn.

“[Last year], our friends back home were like, ‘What happened to Rodney? Why isn’t he playing?’ But I had an NFL running back [David Cobb] in front of me. So you can’t hang your head about it.”

Celestin got more playing time last week and led the Gophers with eight tackles against Ohio. He’s part of a growing Georgia contingent making an impact for the Gophers.

Last year, when running back Shannon Brooks visited from Jasper, Ga., he roomed with Smith and Celestin.

“I knew Shannon was a special kid once he came on his visit,” Celestin said. “I looked at his highlight tape, and it’s pretty impressive. … He keeps his feet better than most backs I’ve probably ever played with.”