~ from UTAD
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football junior offensive lineman Trey Smith announced on Thursday that he will return to the Volunteers for his senior season during a press conference at the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio.
In an homage to Peyton Manning, who famously returned to Tennessee for his senior season in 1997, Smith said: “I’ve made up my mind and don’t expect to ever look back. I’m going to stay at the University of Tennessee.”
During his speech at the podium, Smith stated that he promised his late mother, Dorsetta Smith, he would play in the NFL and also earn his degree and it has been his mission to accomplish those goals.
“In the end, I didn’t get my degree yet,” said Smith, who is scheduled to complete his bachelor’s degree in sport management this May. “It is just one of the things she emphasized while growing up. I have to get an education. It is something nobody can ever take away from me. That is something that has always stuck with me. It is one of my goals in life – to get an education, get my degree and play in the NFL.”
Smith’s father, Henry, his older sister, Ashley, and other relatives and friends were also in attendance at the press conference that also featured statements from Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt and Tennessee Athletics head physician Dr. Chris Klenck, who gave an update on Smith’s health.
“Trey is a guy that is a really good student of the game,” Pruitt said. “He is going to continue to grow and develop. We are excited that he is coming back. He is a huge piece of our football team. He is a great leader and a great player. Once he decided to do this, you heard him, there is no looking back. He is ready to get started and we are too.”
Smith has etched out one of the more memorable careers in recent Tennessee football history for his impact both on and off the field.
The Jackson, Tenn., native started 11 games at left guard in 2019 en route to All-SEC First Team honors from the coaches and media. He was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week twice this fall. After missing the final five games of the 2018 season and a comeback to football questionable, Smith returned to his dominant ways and spearheaded Tennessee’s six-game win streak to end the season. SEC Network analyst and offensive line expert Cole Cubelic named Smith to his All-America First Team.
“We’re building something special here at Tennessee,” Smith said. “I believe in this coaching staff. I believe in the players we have coming. We’re building something special. We have unfinished business this next season.”
Smith is one of three finalists for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award given to the nation’s top all-around student-athlete, which will be awarded to the winner on Feb. 18. Smith is an active speaker to youth groups, elementary schools and organizations across the state and led coat drives for Knoxville Area Rescue Ministry (KARM) during the 2018 and 2019 seasons where over 1,000 coats were donated each year because of his efforts.
Smith came to his home-state school in 2017 as the nation’s No. 1 recruit according to ESPN and quickly lived up to the hype, becoming the first Vol true freshman to start at left tackle in over 30 years en route to consensus Freshman All-America honors and All-SEC Second Team accolades.
Smith was diagnosed with blood clots in February of 2018, but returned to play for the Vols in 2018. Another setback occurred in October of 2018 and Smith missed the final five games of the season. He again fought back to return to football. A plan was developed by the Tennessee medical staff, in collaboration with specialists, which minimizes Smith’s risk for recurrent blood clots, while allowing him to play football.
The plan was implemented for the 2019 season, allowing Smith to perform at an All-SEC level on the football field.
“We implemented that plan this past season and Trey did an outstanding job and was able to excel,” Dr. Klenck said. “Now that we have a season’s worth of experience, we plan to fine tune his treatment plan and continue it into the spring and 2020 season.”
Smith is now ready to get back to business for a Tennessee football team that will return several playmakers, and all of the offensive line starters, from a 7-5 squad that capped the season as one of the nation’s hottest teams, winning six consecutive games, including a tremendous 13-point comeback in the final five minutes of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Jan. 2.
“I wanted to come back here and be great,” Smith said. “I want to leave a legacy at Tennessee. I love this university and I love the people.”
Full Statement from Dr. Chris Klenck, Tennessee Head Team Physician:
“Trey was diagnosed with pulmonary emboli or blood clots in his lungs in February 2018. He was initiated on a course of anticoagulation and was cleared to return to full participation in football in August of 2018. In October of that year, Trey presented during practice with signs and symptoms worrisome for recurrent blood clots. Tests at the hospital that evening were also worrisome and Trey was immediately restarted on anticoagulants and removed from participation. Subsequently, we consulted with multiple specialists who reviewed Trey’s case and studies. Based on those consultations, we feel very confident that Trey’s studies from October were suboptimal and more consistent with lung changes from his prior blood clots and not a second episode of blood clots. In collaboration with our specialists, we developed a treatment plan that we felt would minimize Trey’s risk for recurrent blood clots but still allow him to play football. We implemented that plan this past season and Trey did an outstanding job and was able to excel. Now that we have a season’s worth of experience, we plan to fine tune his treatment plan and continue it into the spring and 2020 season.”
Tennessee Offensive Lineman Trey Smith Statement & Quotes
“First and foremost, I want to give all the honor, praise and glory to God for allowing me to be here in this situation. I want to thank you all for coming out today. I have a long list of thanks before I begin.
“I want to thank my family and friends for being by my side. I want to thank coach Mickey Marley, coach (Nick) Stamper, coach (Jim) Hardegree, coach (Bryce) King, the Bradley’s and Artis Hicks for helping me in high school and seeing potential in my abilities. I want to thank coach (Jeremy) Pruitt, coach (Phillip) Fulmer, coach (Will) Friend, coach (Craig) Fitzgerald, coach Mike Farrell, coach Cameron Clemmons and the entire coaching staff for their wisdom, guidance and support. I want to give a special thanks to Dr. (Chris) Klenck, Jeronimo Boche, Jason McVeigh and the entire medical staff at the University of Tennessee. I want to thank all of my teammates from past and present, who I’ve grinded with (and) struggled with while playing football. I want to thank all of Vol Nation for the continual love and support for not only myself but also my entire team throughout the years.
“My story begins in West Tennessee in a city named Jackson. Ever since I was a child, I’ve dreamt of playing SEC football. I used to pray and ask God he would make me 6-5 so I would be big enough to play the game I love. Fast forward my sophomore year in football, and now I was 6-5 and big enough to play the game that I love. Shortly after I began receiving offers to play division one football, I received numerous scholarships to major SEC universities. Life was great. Everything was great. However, the stark reality of life struck at an early age. My mother, Dorsetta Smith, fell sick and died soon after, which completely crushed my world. From that point since, I’ve been on a mission to fulfill my promise to her. I had to decide what institution was for me. Ultimately, I had to choose home. I fell in love with this university. From watching Jauan (Jennings) score the game winner at UGA, to breaking the streak in Neyland against Florida, when it was time to sign my papers and make a decision, I knew my home was in the state of Tennessee at the University of Tennessee. Tennessee is where I was raised, where I belong. I arrived on campus a wide-eyed freshman, nervous, anxious, about the task I faced. I played well my first year. However, adversity struck. I was diagnosed with blood clots in 2017 near the end of the season. I fought back again and had another setback in 2018. I persevered and came back this season and fought for everything I could. Now, as we sit here today, I’m faced with a life-changing decision. You see, when my mom was sick, I promised her I would receive my degree and diploma and I would play in the NFL one day. I want to be 100 percent sure of my decision. With that being said, I will honor my mother, Dorsetta Smith. I’ve made up my mind and don’t expect to ever look back. I’m going to stay at the University of Tennessee.”
On how difficult of a decision it was to return for his senior season:
“I think I left some money on the field, some would say. There are many things I can increase and get better at, be a lot more consistent on my game. I want to attack those areas and be better.”
On how much he relied on his family when making his decision:
“We’re a spiritual family. We took a lot of time to pray and think about it. We did our proper research to make sure it was the right decision. We came together and made a decision.”
On if playing in his senior season will give NFL teams more to look at:
“Yes, absolutely. I think it will.”
On when he knew this was the right move for him:
“Just thinking about it. We sent my film off and got it evaluated by the college advising board. They recommended that I came back. After thoughtful prayer and consideration, I decided it was the best option.”
On if he had a certain number, in terms of NFL draft projection, that he needed to hear from the NFL that would have convinced him to enter the draft:
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a number. You just want your stock to be as high as it can be. I just feel like, as a player, I have a lot more things that I need to fix in order to get at a higher level, play the game the way I know I can play.”
On if there is a plan for him to get back on the practice field, ahead of next season:
“We have a great plan here at the University of Tennessee. We have a great medical staff. Talking with Doctor Klenck, we have a great plan. Anything he feels comfortable with, we’re going to stick to it.”
On if he spoke with teammates before his announcement:
“I didn’t really tell anybody the truth. I just left them in the grey a little bit.”
On where he believes he can improve his game during his senior season:“Where do I start? Balance, body control, over-extension, being too aggressive at times, which I think is just a timing thing. I’ve just got to play the game under control. Sometimes I get really over aggressive and just want to kill everybody when I’m out there. It’s playing with controlled violence.”
On how close he is to graduating:
“I should be able to graduate in May.”
On if he spoke to Peyton Manning or anyone else that went through a similar situation, while making this decision:
“I just think it’s sort of a different situation. It’s my decision at the end of the day. It’s going to be my life, so I felt like I could rely on the information I was getting. I was confident in it and I’m confident in my abilities. I had a good plan, a proper plan to come back better.”
On when he made the final decision, and if he thought about it during the bowl game process:
“I was thinking about it the whole time, honestly. Just making decisions, when people know what they’re talking about, together, we made a better decision and a conclusion, essentially.”
On if the team’s success down the stretch of this season impacted his decision to return for his final season with the Vols:
“I wouldn’t say it impacted me, but I definitely want to be a part of it. We’re building something special here at Tennessee. I believe in this coaching staff. I believe in the players we have coming. We’re building something special. We have unfinished business this next season.”
On if he is at peace now that the decision is out of the way:
“Yes. I am definitely relieved. I can go back to hiding now. I can chill out and get my body better to get ready for the season.”
On if it was tough to go through this process:
“I just tried to put my mind off it for a little bit. I just played some NCAA games at Riley Locklear’s house and chilled out pretty much.”
On him quoting Peyton Manning and when he decided to do that:
“When I made my decision on coming back, I wanted to pay homage to the GOAT. That is how we do it here. He is one of the best to ever play obviously. I just wanted to bring that little piece of legacy and bring that back to Tennessee.”
On why coming back to school was the biggest promise he made to his mom:
“In the end, I didn’t get my degree yet. If I did make the decision to go to the NFL, I thought when I was done playing, I would come back the day after to come get my degree. It is just one of the things she emphasized while growing up. I have to get an education. It is something nobody can ever take away from me. That is something that has always stuck with me. It is one of my goals in life – to get an education, get my degree and play in the NFL.”
On what his degree will be in:
On what he thinks his mom would say to him today:
“She would be proud. She would be really proud. She would be nervous with all the medical stuff, but she would be very proud.”
On if he feels like he answered some questions that the NFL would’ve had:
“Yes. There are still some questions. Obviously, you want to leave when your stock is highest. There are a lot of concerns, so in my mind it wasn’t a good decision (to leave for the NFL). I am going to stay this year to improve myself and worth and prove that my health is good. That is ultimately why I decided for my family.”
On how much he thinks he can improve his stock:
“I think one of the reasons why I came back is because I didn’t play as well as I wanted to this year. I think I left a lot on the table and made a lot of mistakes and a lot of bad plays. I want to stay consistent. I could have 20 plays that I am on somebody, but on about five I am getting beat. I am on the ground or losing balance. In my mind that is not a good game. That is not where I want to be in that level of play.”
On what the plan will be this year to improve his stock now that he knows how to manage his health:
“To get my body at the best level and best it has ever been. Make sure I am losing weight and eating correctly and getting stronger in every facet that I can. I think the main piece that we are missing is the mental process and just staying in the film room and meeting with coach Jim Chaney. This will be the first year I will be in the system on offense for two years in a row. That is a big benefit and plus. We will see where that leads. At the beginning of the season, I was still trying to figure out what to do on plays and relying on Brandon Kennedy as a crutch a lot of times. This year I am coming in and I can make the clearance as well. It is just a development thing. Just like coach Pruitt mentioned. It is just a developmental position and it is a mental process. It just has to be that much higher.”
On if he was able to find out if the medical plan here at UT would’ve been the same in the NFL:
“Essentially it would be the same plan. Whatever team decides (to draft me), if that opportunity presents itself, that (plan) is what I would go through with. Once again, this year is going to prove myself. Just speaking of that, it is one of those things that we will cross the bridge when we get there.”
On if he told any of his teammates about his decision:
“I really don’t think so.”
On if he told his teammates that he wouldn’t tell anybody his decision:
“Yeah. Pretty much everybody didn’t know. The people that knew were the immediate people that helped me. I wanted to give a special thanks to them, because without them this would be very hard.”
On how much this decision weighed on him throughout the season:
“Not at all. My high school coach, Mickey Marley, was a wise man. He is a great figure in my life. When I was getting recruited in high school, he used to tell me to not worry about all that stuff because I still had to play on Friday night. So why would I worry about the NFL on Sundays when I am still playing on Saturdays? That is the sort of mentality I always got from him. Worry about what is in front of you, a fool is going to only worry about the future and not what is in front of you in the present.”
On when he was able to finally come to a decision:
“About three or four days ago is when I officially decided, I guess. I wanted to come back here and be great. I want to leave a legacy at Tennessee. I love this university and I love the people. But coming back it was ultimately a business decision. You have to take that into account. It is business at that level.”
Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt Statement & Quotes
“First off, I just want to thank everybody for coming out. I know this is a huge day for Trey and his family and something that he’s really worked hard for throughout his career. I want to say a little bit about him. First off, as a student athlete representing the University of Tennessee, I’ve had the privilege of coaching a lot of outstanding young men throughout my career. I would say that Trey is as good a student, as good a representative (and) as good a teammate as any that I’ve been around. The circumstances that have kind of been presented to him over the last 24 months have been very unusual. The fact that he’s been able to overcome them and become the type of player that he has become without the opportunity to participate every day in practice; I can’t say enough about his work ethic (and) his commitment to excellence on and off the field. Really, he’s probably one of the better football players in this entire country, and he’s done that without being able to practice each week. If you know anything about the game of football, it’s a developmental game, especially the position he plays. You’re sitting there relying on three or four guys beside you. The fact that he’s been able to plug in there on Saturdays and be able to produce and play at the level that he’s been able to play at speaks volumes of him and his commitment to excellence. With that, I’m going to let Trey come up here and talk.”
On his response to Trey Smith returning:
“First off, the way that Trey and his family handled this, they did everything exactly the way you should do it. You could probably write a book on how to handle this situation and it would be something that you could pass down for the next 100 years when it comes down to taking the information that they gathered, focusing on school, practice and the bowl game. When it was over with, they came back and sat down. I can’t say enough about the time and effort his family put in to meeting with folks and gathering the information that they wanted to get to make a decision with Trey. Our medical staff, when you look at Dr. Klenck and the guys that work with him and what they have done over the last 24 months to number one, give Trey an opportunity to play football. They were able to keep him safe and manage it throughout the year and the things they have planned moving forward.”
On the NFL saying what round they projected Trey to be drafted if he declared for the draft:
“It’s kind of an unusual circumstance. Trey is one of the best players in college football. He knows what his value is. With the circumstances that were presented to him he was not able to practice. I don’t know how anyone can go play at the level that he has played and not practice, but he has been able to do that. Hopefully with the plan moving forward it will give him the opportunity to continue to improve as a player and improve his draft stock.”
On how much it will help going into next season after a year of following this plan:
“That is with the medical staff. I think Trey is wanting to be able to participate one day a week. That is something they are working hard to be able to do. That is something that looks like it is going to be possible when you talk to Dr. Klenck and his staff.”
On what the return of Trey Smith means for the Tennessee offense:
“It starts with leadership. You saw the type of person he is, the family that he comes from and his values and all his intangibles while he was standing at the podium. Take away the athletic ability, which is phenomenal. I’m just talking about his makeup and who he is. It is contagious and it’s going to give him an opportunity to finish what he has started and that is something that he is looking forward to doing.”
On his advice that he gave Trey Smith during his decision:
“Well, I’m not an NFL coach so I have no idea what round anyone is going to get drafted in. I coach at Tennessee. We do have connections in the NFL, and we put him with general managers, owners and head coaches or whoever to help them (Trey and his family) decide on this decision.”
On when he found out what Trey’s decision was going to be:
“I think Tuesday.”
On if he was expecting to have Trey on his team in 2020:
“We are always going to support our student-athletes. If Trey decided to enter the draft, we would all be behind him. That is between him and his family. We are here to help them grow as student-athletes and players while they are under our care. We will put them around the right folks that will help them make decisions that will affect them for the rest of their life.”
On areas where Trey can improve on next season:
“Consistency. I think that Trey would be the first to tell you that you could watch the course of a game and there is 10-17 plays in a game where he is playing as good as anyone in the country. He plays at a high level the rest of the game. There is probably about six to 12 plays in a game where you may ask, “where did that come from?” It comes from the fact that he did not get to experience it at practice. You’re talking about two padded practices in the last 12 months. When you look at game six or seven, you are talking about one week of practice he has had in live contact football.”
On his statement of himself being over aggressive and whether or not he likes that from a coaching perspective:
“Well, he kind of has the itch because he doesn’t have the chance to hit anyone during the week, so he is ready to hit them on Saturday. Trey is a guy that is a really good student of the game. He is going to continue to grow and develop. We are excited that he is coming back. He is a huge piece of our football team. He is a great leader and a great player. Once he decided to do this, you heard him, there is no looking back. He is ready to get started and we are too.”
On Brandon Kennedy and Trey Smith both returning:
“They are two guys that have been around for a while. They are very mature. They have a professionalism around them when it comes to how they handle their business, whether it is on the field or off. They both have the chance to be really good football players and we have them both coming back. We have great leadership in that room and these guys will affect not only that room but the offense and the rest of the team.”
On when the contact practice would be if Trey gets cleared for contact practices:
“We have not gone down that road yet. That is something that we would talk about when we get closer to that point.”