By Zach Stipe, Director of Football Communications
On the field, Trey Smith enjoys putting opponents on the ground.
Tennessee’s ultra-competitive junior offensive lineman from Jackson, Tenn., loves nothing more than a good old fashioned “pancake” or “knockdown” when he’s battling a defensive lineman in a game.
“I dominated you and knocked you on your back,” Smith says with a grin. “There really is no better feeling, honestly, than taking your man from Point A to Point B and putting him on his back.”
Smith has put a lot of opponents on their back during his three-year career that has included Freshman All-America and All-SEC Second Team honors. He recently recorded 11 knockdowns against Mississippi State, spearheading a 20-10 Tennessee victory at Neyland Stadium and collecting SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week accolades.
Smith also enjoys picking people up.
Whether it’s organizing a coat drive for underprivileged families during the winter, assisting with a holiday dinner for the homeless or telling his story about overcoming adversity to kids of all ages, the 6’6, 320-pounder has a heart to match his prototypical left guard frame.
“The story that I tell people is that it doesn’t really matter where you come from, what your situation is, you don’t need to give up,” Smith said. “You just need to keep fighting and fighting because you never know what’s going to happen. At the end of the day you shouldn’t give up because of your circumstances, you should always keep fighting, because you don’t know what God has in store for you.”
Smith is the living embodiment of this.
His collegiate playing career was put on hold following the discovery of blood clots. After a standout 2017 season that saw him become the first Volunteer true freshman to start at left tackle in over 30 years, he was expected to be one of the nation’s top offensive linemen as a sophomore. However, he was limited before the 2018 season following the off-season scare and then played in only seven games during Jeremy Pruitt‘s first season as the head coach in 2018. The blood clots returned and Smith’s future in football was up in the air heading into the 2019 offseason.
With encouragement from his coaches and family, Smith kept in shape during the winter and spring with the plan to return to the game he loves.
Pruitt, in particular, was very encouraging to Smith, making sure he remained included as a part of the team while he was out. Pruitt also reminded him to stay ready.
“He’s always been focused on me and my individual health rather thinking about the future in football,” Smith said. “We always have said that health comes first, and football comes second. It was really cool because there was the point last year where I didn’t know if I would play anymore and (Coach Pruitt) was telling me you never know what’s going to happen, so keep working out, because if a positive breakthrough happens then you are prepared for that moment.”
The positive breakthrough happened right before the season kicked off when Tennessee announced its star left guard was cleared to play in the 2019 season opener.
Smith and his family consulted with several of the best doctors in the country and a plan was developed that allowed him to play.
“My family and I are confident in that plan,” Smith said. “The coaches and staff here at Tennessee have always had my best interests at heart and I can’t thank them enough.”
The coaching staff brought Smith along slowly since he didn’t practice much leading into the fall. He didn’t start the first game and was on a snap-limit for the first few games. He has improved each week, and much like the Tennessee team, he continues to get better and is looking to peak next month as the Vols will compete for a bowl berth.
“I think right now it’s like climbing a mountain,” Smith said. “At the beginning we are at the bottom, and it’s like ‘Can we get up there?’ But now we are slowly going up, and eventually we are going to get to the top. We are still climbing.”
The Vols are still climbing and improving behind an offensive line that is led by Smith and redshirt senior center Brandon Kennedy. They are the veterans on the line that includes a pair of true freshmen tackles in Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright. The fifth member of the line has rotated with sophomore Jerome Carvin appearing to settle in at right guard, but redshirt juniors Ryan Johnson and Marcus Tatum as well as redshirt sophomores K’Rojhn Calbert and Riley Locklear are also providing quality reps in games.
“I think my leadership comes in different ways,” Smith said. “I feel like a lot of times my leadership comes in games. It’s third-and-short, if it’s third-and-long, if it’s a third-down scenario where we need to hold the line, I make sure everyone is locked in – especially Wanya and Darnell because their development is going to be key in the future.”
Led by Smith, the Vols relied on the running game to defeat Mississippi State before showing flashes of dominance against the nation’s No. 1 team in a loss at Alabama. The Vols’ offensive line pushed around the Crimson Tide’s defensive front throughout the game and opened holes for Tim Jordan who rushed for 94 yards on 17 carries.
Against South Carolina the following week, Smith and Kennedy led the Vols’ top offensive performance of the season. Tennessee had a season-high 485 yards of total offense and 351 passing yards despite playing three quarterbacks.
Smith handled South Carolina’s highly touted defensive line, holding the Gamecocks without a sack for the first time all season.
“I think everybody is really just excited for Trey,” Pruitt said. “Trey is a great person, comes from a great family. When you talk about representing the University of Tennessee the right way, it’s Trey Smith.”
Smith is a Tennessee kid and he is determined to get the Vols back to being one of the nation’s top programs. He takes pride in playing for his home state, wearing the Power T, running through the T and being an ambassador in the community.
“It means everything to me to put on the Orange and White every week, coming from the Jackson area and having several greats that have played here before me like Al Wilson, Trey Teague and Jabari Greer,” Smith said. “(Fellow Jackson native) Greg Emerson and I talked about leaving our legacy here and creating a ‘Jackson Pipeline.'”
Smith is well on his way to leaving an impressive legacy at Tennessee from overcoming adversity to impacting the community to knocking opponents down on the field.
“From day one, you knew Trey was an outstanding person and just a joy to be around,” Vols offensive line coach Will Friend said. “You feel for what he’s had to go through, but he’s had a great attitude. With all the adversity that he’s dealt with, you haven’t seen a change in Trey, and I think that’s a pretty good lesson to all of us, regardless of playing football or not.”
Smith plays for his family – his father, Henry, his namesake (Trey comes from Henry Smith III) and who also was a star football player from Jackson, his sister, Ashley, a former Lady Vol basketball manager under Pat Summitt, who now works as the Director of Student-Athlete Career Development for the Tennessee Athletic Department, and, of course, his mother, Dorsetta, who died in 2015.
And he plays the game because he loves it. It was almost taken away from him, so he is going to give his all to the game and give his all for Tennessee.
“I’m going to try to play as hard as I can, playing every play like it’s my last,” Smith said. “I always want to give as much effort as possible.”