The cold, cruel NFL has hurt Trey Smith’s feelings.
And cost him millions.
He is justifiably ticked off. He said he’ll remember how he was treated.
For years and years, Trey has been told how good he is. He was the consummate offensive lineman, ideal size, correctly combative, heart of a lion, faithful to a fault.
He was an honorable young man, a Christian, no hint of trouble, serious student.
He had no choice but to grow up before his time. His mother, Dorsetta, died of congestive heart failure at 51. Trey was 15. He endured heartbreak but responded. He became the No. 1 prep football prospect in the country.
Disaster followed. At Tennessee, blood clots were discovered in Trey’s lungs in early 2018. Doctors said he could die in the blink of an eye. Trey said find a way he could continue playing football.
They did. Six months of blood-thinning medication and baby aspirin wasn’t the normal way to train for another fight. He didn’t practice much but he played.
After the 2019 season, he made a monumental decision to return to Tennessee instead of leaving early for the pros. He said some of what Peyton Manning said when he made a similar decision.
Fans and coaches cheered. Trey was going to refine his game and open his medical records to prove himself capable of day-to-day warfare.
The great pro analyst Gil Brandt (of Dallas Cowboys fame) seemed skeptical.
“I generally believe almost every college player benefits by exhausting their eligibility before entering the draft, but there are some exceptions. Trey Smith would have been in the mix as the top offensive lineman had he come out.”
For remaining a Vol, Trey was rewarded with a crushing defeat.
Once upon a time, he was projected as a certain first-round draft choice, the greatest guard on the big board. Could be concerns about his long-term health pushed him down. Could be decision-makers thought liability risks were greater than potential rewards.
Scouts didn’t say that. They whispered that Smith had regressed. In the convoluted 2020 season, Tennessee won three of 10 games. He missed three blocks.
NFL people kept looking at video and asking how-come questions about his overall performance. They said, off the record, that Trey’s technique was sloppy. He needed better body control. He had flaws that should have been corrected when he was a sophomore.
One scout said Trey telegraphed assignments. Another said he had a bad tendency to pop straight up after the snap and lose pad level. They said he is stiff instead of fluid, and that he had tunnel vision, especially in pass protection. One said he lacks polish.
How rude! They were talking bad (anonymously) about a beloved Volunteer and pointing guilty fingers at Will Friend, $805,000 line coach, No. 2 in the country in salary, one of Jeremy Pruitt’s best friends.
One critic got very personal: “Looks like Trey should have done less marching and more video study.”
Trey was an out-front leader in the racial movement. He led a couple of marches. He was a campus leader, period. He launched coat drives for the poor. He was nationally recognized as the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year. He received the Torchbearer Award, top honor for a UT senior student.
Beating up Trey’s football reputation started much earlier. He dropped to No. 6 among offensive line prospects in mock drafts. He became late second or early third round in revised projections. It was obvious that major money was evaporating. He countered with more information about his prior medical condition.
Trey said doctors said the plan that was sustained at Tennessee would work in the NFL.
“I know it’s something we haven’t been completely open with in the past for my own privacy … we are telling people what my situation is and how we’ve solved the issue … I can explain it a million times if I have to … I have no problem whatsoever helping people understand what I went through and making them comfortable with the results.”
It didn’t work.
He was finally drafted in the sixth round. Kansas City did the honors. Thirty-five offensive linemen went ahead of him. Smith was the 226th selection.
Trey’s first visit with KC media was impressive. He said just being drafted was a relief. He said he believes God has a plan.
I had one two years ago. With a stroke of genius, I wrote that Trey Smith is a good book waiting to be written, an inspirational movie to be made. The NFL did not follow the script I had in mind but the framework is intact.
“When my mother was sick, I promised her I would receive my degree and I would play in the NFL one day.”
Trey finished the first part of that commitment and earned additional respect. I believe he will rise above the putdowns and sixth-round stigma. He is coachable. If all goes really well, maybe he will achieve greatness and claim most of the millions he lost.
I hope, as a bonus, that whoever writes the book or directs the movie wins a prize. The Trey Smith hang-in-there story is a winner.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org