Every year there are stars handed out by a bevy of recruiting services to the top-ranked high school prospects in the country. While there are some who live up to the hype, there have been plenty of examples of some who have fallen by the wayside. Slowly stumbling off of the edge of a cliff that is so deep that they go on to become folktales of generations of spectators and eventually turn into the story of a player on Friday nights that was the "greatest who never was" despite their label from outsiders.
At a young age, Trey Smith was always the large-sized athlete that received long stares and funny looks from by-passers. Possessing unbelievable size and a ferocious mindset, those prior emotions quickly became looks of amaze, and astonishment after seeing how it carried over onto the gridiron.
His hometown of Jackson, Tennessee is an area that means a lot to him. He carries the name of it on his shoulders and exhibits tremendous pride when doing so. Former NFL legend Ed “Too Tall” Jones is also a native of the city.
Prior to the beginning of his career at the University of Jackson High School, Smith continued to make a name for himself. As a middle schooler, his parents, Henry and Dorsetta Smith, essentially were on tour with Smith as he traveled from state-to-state on the summer football camp circuit with their son. It proved to be a blessing in disguise, as Trey was no longer the states best kept secret that was yet to even play in a high school game. That didn't matter for many schools, including Ole Miss, who was the first school to offer him a full scholarship in 2014.
While college interest and the intrigue with the views on his early career highlight tape continued to sky-rocket, the health of his mother began to deteriorate. At 15-years old, Smith always recounted memories of his mother and her strength while raising him and his younger sister, Ashley. One day though, something just didn't seem to be right.
In what seemed to be regular February day (2015) for the then 6-foot-6, 300 pound sophomore offensive lineman, he hustled through the classroom door to sit near the front of all of his classes as each late and dismal bell rang. Considering it was the offseason, after-school, he always sat down with his coaches to watch film from a season ago and of the great NFL players that he always wanted to emulate.
Following the film session, his aunt took him to his uncles house. There, he received the news from his father that his mother had passed away from heart complications at the age of 51. Crashing to the ground, he couldn't believe what has just transpired. He didn’t know what to do or think now that the one woman that he trusted the most was gone. The worst part being that he never received the chance to say goodbye to the biggest cheerleader in his life. She always taught him lessons about striving to be the best while remaining humble along the way in everything that he aspired.
As a tribute to her, Smith played with a chip larger than his abnormal shoulder for the duration of his high school career. Prior to his final season, he was tabbed as the top recruit of the 2017 recruiting class. A three-time consecutive all-state selection and two-time Tennessee Mr. Football pick, he was labeled as arguably the best offensive line prospects of the past decade. Some recruiting analyst uttered the lofty praise of him being the highest graded offensive line recruit ever. Despite interest from every major college in the country, the star blocker stayed true to his roots by signing with the Volunteers.
Smith entered Knoxville with plenty of hype and he was immediately penciled in as the teams starting left tackle -- the first true freshman to start at the spot in more than 30 years.
His first season as the teams blindside protector was a revelation. Starting all 12 games, he received every accolade possible that a freshman student-athlete could receive. Many argued that Smith had the best season among any true freshman ever in program history, regardless of the position.
Heading into the 2018 season as a preseason All-SEC recipient, there were nearly impossible expectations placed upon him, but the expectations came crashing down as doctors found blood clots in his lungs. The condition continued to be monitored and he was able to weather the storm to return for his true sophomore season.
Seven games into the year, Smith was delivering not only with his production, but also with dishing out punishment on the field. Following the seventh game (South Carolina) of the 2018 season, his sophomore campaign came to a screeching halt after doctors discovered that the blood clots in his lungs had resurfaced.
Confused about the situation and with his mother largely on his mind at the time, Smith had no idea what to think of his future status playing the game that he loved nor how long he himself had to live. Periods of tossing and turning at night and constant negative thoughts surrounded him.
After becoming fully aware of the discovery, Smith, and his family spent multiple months during the offseason with team doctors trying to figure out the proper measures to take. Both parties agreed that in order to treat his condition, a six-month course of blood thinning medicine (Anticoagulants) was needed.
While searching to improve from his diagnosis, Smith would miss all of spring practices. Mentioned as the slowest moving time period of his life because it was without football and there were only a select few activities that he could actually participate in. He even went through periods of seeing multiple doctors that included a flight to Boston to see Dr. Sam Goldhaber, the chief of cardiovascular medicine at Harvard and an international expert in clotting disorders. He was also forced to undergo multiple cardiovascular tests at Vanderbilt Medical Center for the time being.
All roads led to final weekly evaluations with Dr. Chris Klenck, who is the head physician at the University of Tennessee. These were done with Smith's family to provide an update on his blood work and constant progress that he was making. Having so many negative thoughts in the back of his head and because it was during the same time period, all he could think about was the months and timeline aligning with his mother's passing in February of 2015. The summer prior to the 2019 season, all signs were pointed in the proper direction during each meeting and positive steps were taken in order for Smith to return to the field. He was officially cleared to resume his career in just prior to the teams season opener against Georgia State (Aug. 28).
The Volunteers standout offensive lineman has shifted from left tackle to left guard and returned to being the anchor of the unit. The laundry list of accolades, heavy heart he's endured, and with the obstacles that he's had to overcome, it's easy to see why Smith has remained motivated and fought through the mountain of adversity that he's been faced with.
Finally returning to form and flashing off that five-star sticker that he was once tagged with, evaluators are once again excited about his football future and prognosis going forward as he continues to be a bright spot in Rocky Top.
Now that Smith has returned to being healthy to the field, what does his skill set bring to the table?
Where He Wins (+)
Smith has a ready made NFL body throughout. Possessing tree trunks for legs, he has a highly mature and thick frame from top to bottom. He already looks the part of a well seasoned veteran offensive lineman. Smith's wide structure makes it hard for defenders to withstand him at the point of attack as he relegates to being a mauler by using his body to his advantage.
When asked to operate in space and throw his frame around onto targets, Smith makes life extremely difficult for moving targets that are attacking the first level. His frame swallows up would be ball chasers and top-scraping linebackers during running concepts. When victorious with squaring up targets, his mass immediately makes them disappear.
He's shown to be capable of putting the path of rushers to a complete halt when able to land cleanly. Smith's large frame coupled with imposing hand weight and strength lead to his punches leaving a heavy burden on opposing matchups. It's easy to notice the body of the opposition jolt back in surprise after Smith successfully hits target areas.
Where He Must Improve (-)
Despite having an impressive physique, Smith still lacks well defined tone to his body. He has very little muscle definition and shows to be less strong than he is big. He still has failed to recognize the natural traits that he already has been given and using them consistently. As a result, he plays as if none of those characteristics are already present.
Smith has clunky and heavy feet that leave a lot to be desired as an athlete. The lack thereof and risks associated with playing him at offensive tackle were noticeable due to the offense always keeping a tight end attached to his hip in formations. Struggles bending at the knees and all blocks are made from an upright position. The transition to left guard has helped his outlook tremendously though.