Tennessee connection to Witten Award

Marvin Westwestwords

We’ll see tomorrow if the Tennessee connection has anything to do with the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award.


Volunteer offensive lineman Trey Smith will be in Frisco, Texas, to receive the trophy or applaud the recipient. The winner could be Michael Pittman Jr., Southern Cal’s star receiver and team MVP. It could be Air Force reserve quarterback Isaiah Sanders. He was the only football player in America to skip a game last season to take an exam for a Rhodes Scholarship.

The Witten award honors exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship on and off the field. It is intended to recognize men of exemplary character and commitment to community, family and teammates as demonstrated by Jason Witten, one of the most prominent role models in or out of the NFL.

That Witten is an ex-Vol, tight end, 2000-2002, is supposedly incidental. It shouldn’t matter that Jason will make the presentation and donate $10,000 to the athletic scholarship fund of the winner’s school.

The honoree was chosen by a panel of prominent former players and coaches plus members of the college football media. Alas, I am on the far outer edges of that distinguished group and did not have a vote.

If “exceptional courage” weighed heavily in the selection process, Trey Smith is the winner. The University of Tennessee did not dramatize Trey’s courage in the nomination but he actually risked his life to continue in football after the blood clot diagnosis.

It took another shot of courage to face Southeastern Conference competition week after week with restricted preparation.

Faith in family showed up when Trey’s mother, Dorsetta, died while he was still in high school.

I haven’t forgotten the emotional tug when he committed to Tennessee. Before a big crowd at University School in Jackson, Trey thanked his late mother, who was buried on Valentine’s Day 2015, and praised God as he brushed back tears.

“I said I wasn’t going to cry.”

Trey made some commitments, including earning a college degree. That factored in his recent decision to return to UT for his senior season instead of moving on to pro football.

If concern for the community is a big deal, Trey was a member of the 2018 SEC community service team. He was the Vol nominee for the Wuerffel Trophy, an award for combining community service with athletic and academic achievement.

A month ago, Trey won the inaugural Fritz Pollard Trophy for extraordinary courage, community values and exceptional performance on the field.

In his spare time, he is an accomplished leader. Trey worked his way through Tennessee’s VOLeaders academy. This is a powerful program. It equips participants with foundational skills necessary to lead their teams, campus and communities. It spills off on other countries. Leaders do 10-day summer service trips abroad.

Trey is active as a speaker to youth groups, elementary schools and service organizations. He spearheaded a coat drive for Knoxville Area Rescue Ministry. A thousand were donated.

If you want to compare good people, Trey Smith is good enough. If genuine importance is attached to playing football the way it was intended, Trey is high class. He knocks opponents upside down but tries not step on them.

Sanders is a worthy finalist. He has given unselfishly of his time to a variety of service projects. He is stronger in that than in football but he did complete all five passes this past season. He played in five games for the Falcons.

Pittman is very interesting. He had a great season, 101 receptions, 1,275 yards, 11 touchdowns. He was first-team all-Pac 12.

Michael overcame childhood stuttering to become a team captain. He uses stuttering recollections as a platform to promote communication skills in elementary students. He sponsors a child in Indonesia through Compassion International.

He is the son of a former NFL running back who played for Tampa Bay in the 2003 Super Bowl.

Witten says he is properly impressed by all three candidates.

“They have all proven themselves to be great leaders on the field, in the classroom and in the community, and they are perfect examples of what being a student-athlete is all about. It was nearly impossible to choose just three from all of the great players nominated.”

Sounds good, Jason. I’ll take Trey.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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