Pray for Trey

Marvin WestFeature, westwords

Happiness is getting the last two gifts wrapped and the bicycle assembled with time left to light candles and sing Christmas carols.

Here is an add-on: Say a prayer for Henry Louis Smith III. The very big Volunteer needs a lift.

Trey Smith, at left, assists with the Knox Area Rescue Ministry’s Coats for the Cold collection. Photo from a Nov. 21 story by Caleb Souder, Tennessee media relations intern for UT sports.

Trey doesn’t have the entire weight of the world on his broad shoulders, but he carries a heavy load. He honestly doesn’t know if he can beat the blood-clot problem. He may have to stay on anticoagulants. Forever. If so, the rest of his life changes.

All those dreams of what he was going to do at the University of Tennessee and the money he was going to make in the NFL hang in the balance. Think about the difference in XXL coat and tie, 9 to 5, and the Chicago Bears or Dallas Cowboys.

Think about the frustration, disappointment, heartbreak for a real football player who loves the game and can’t play. Think about a neurosurgeon whose hands go bad, an artist struck blind, a musician who is suddenly deaf.

Think about Trey Smith.

We knew who and what he was years ago, when he was growing up in Jackson. He was bigger and better than those around him. He wore size 16 shoes.

He was kind and gentle, sometimes the big protector. He actually stopped hallway bullies at school – when he was 14. That was the year he went to football camps and got his first four scholarship offers from Southeastern Conference schools.

Trey was a rare combination of size, athleticism and humility. He developed into a mountain of a young man, 6-5 ½ and 310. He projected poise and dignity. The depth of his thoughts and the way he spoke were unusual for his age. He was an excellent student. He was strong enough to endure the sudden death of his mother, Dorsetta. He survived the tug of war for his services. Everybody wanted him. ESPN said he was the No. 1 talent in the country.

Of course he chose Tennessee. He’s from Tennessee. Trey’s announcement set off a shower of orange-and-white confetti at school. Family and friends cheered. He and they joined in singing “Rocky Top.”

Ohio State, Alabama, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and Clemson were runners-up. They did not sing.

Butch Jones knew what he had from the beginning – the total package.

“That is what makes him special,” Jones said. “First of all, mentally, the ability to pick up and retain information. The competitiveness, the drive to be great and not just on the football field, but in the classroom and in the game of life as well. He loves the weight room. He just wants to do anything possible to be great.”

The nice young man turned football foes upside down. He was a freshman all-American. Day by day, his future looked brighter and brighter.

In February, in winter workouts, he couldn’t finish a drill. Perceptive trainers sent him to the doctor. He spent three days at UT Medical Center after blood clots were discovered in his lungs. He met with specialists. He went to Boston, to see an international expert in clotting disorders, the chief of cardiovascular medicine at Harvard University. He even went through a cardiac evaluation at Vanderbilt.

Trey and father Henry II and sister Ashley understood the severity of the situation. They found it comforting that Jeremy Pruitt and others at UT kept saying it wasn’t about football, but about Trey’s well-being and his life.

“They were concerned about me as a person.”

Treatment was anticoagulants and baby aspirin, limited physical activity, constant monitoring. Eventually Dr. Chris Klenck, Tennessee team physician, said scans showed no more blood clots. In July, Trey was cleared to do conditioning and non-contact drills.

“There’s always a risk of a new blood clot forming. There is no scenario where the risk is zero. There’s still a chance. You just have to be vigilant of signs and symptoms of blood clots,” said the physician.

Dr. Klenck said the risk would still be there, even if Trey stopped playing football.

Smith made it back to football. He played in seven games. He did not play as well as he had as a freshman. Constant monitoring found one explanation, the recurrence of blood clots in his lungs, days before the South Carolina game.

Pruitt never said how that impacted the team. He just said the most important thing is for Trey to get well.

“We are thankful that our medical staff discovered this and is getting him the proper treatment.”

Say a prayer that Trey Smith can handle it, that he recovers. Playing again would be a bonus.

I’ll never forget something Rusty Bradley, coach at Grace Christian Academy of Knoxville, previously Trey’s coach at University School of Jackson, said about the young man:

“Because of his humility, I think God has given him the grace to handle whatever comes.”

Marvin West invites reader reaction via email.

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