By Steve Williams
When you’re 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, it’s kind of hard to blend in. But in a way, that’s what Trey Smith did best at University School of Jackson last season, and that’s what he’s been doing as he begins what could be a very promising career as an offensive lineman in the University of Tennessee football program.
Rusty Bradley recently reflected on the one season he had coaching Smith, which was last fall at USJ, a Division II-A member of the TSSAA.
“ESPN had him as the No. 1 overall player in the country,” said Bradley, who has since returned to Knoxville as the new head coach at Grace Christian Academy and was head coach at CAK for nine years before going to Jackson.
“Last season was a lot of fun. Trey was very, very humble. He was just one of the guys. He never really talked about recruiting and did not want to talk about it. He just kind of wanted to blend in, but worked unbelievably hard.”
Much like still wearing No. 73, Bradley has noticed Smith’s work ethic hasn’t changed at UT or his attitude.
“He’s gone in there and just blended in,” said Bradley. “He hasn’t been about promoting himself. He’s not really said a lot, but just worked. I think right now he’s actually running with the 1’s at right tackle.”
Smith probably won’t be the No. 1 attraction in Tennessee’s spring game this coming Saturday at Neyland Stadium, but he’ll be close behind the quarterback battle between Quentin Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano.
“I won’t be surprised at all if Trey starts this season,” said Bradley. “He’s that talented. He’s ready physically to start. It’s just a matter of adjusting to the speed of the game and all those things.”
A freshman starting in the trenches of the Southeastern Conference is rare, and it’s often said the offensive line is probably the toughest position to play as a rookie in the SEC, because those are men in there. And Bradley pointed out that Trey is 17 years old and doesn’t turn 18 until the end of June.
Smith was 6-5 and 297 when he was at USJ last season, Bradley also noted, so he’s still growing, too.
But Smith is different in many ways.
“A lot of guys spend the summer before their senior year – especially when they are uncommitted – visiting different schools and taking unofficial visits,” said Bradley. “Trey didn’t do that. He didn’t miss one workout. He shut down recruiting and made it about having a good senior year at USJ.”
And what a season that was.
“It was a zoo,” recalled Bradley. “The week before Trey announced we had Butch Jones, with three of his assistant coaches, come by.”
Butch was followed by Brian Kelly and the O-line coach from Notre Dame and Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze.
“The day before he announced,” pointed out Bradley, “Nick Saban and three assistants from Alabama came, and 30 minutes later Urban Meyer and the offensive line coach from Ohio State.
“And then he made his announcement live on ESPN.”
Bradley was impressed with how Smith handled all of the attention. Jones stood on the USJ sideline when the Bruins played Briarcrest Christian in Memphis.
“Everywhere we went with Trey it was a red carpet event,” said Bradley. “And he just kind of took it all in stride and didn’t let it distract him.”
Other than being a great football player, Coach Bradley was asked to comment on Trey Smith the person.
“Humble, selfless,” replied Rusty. “When society today teaches you to be selfish and be all about yourself, that’s not what Trey is. He was a great teammate. I have so much respect for him and how his family raised him.”
What was he like as a high school player on the field?
“He was dominant,” said Bradley. “A lot of times he was so dominant that he got personal fouls just because he was manhandling a kid. He wasn’t doing anything illegal, but they (the officials) saw Trey just lying on top of a kid and assumed he had held or done something to get him to the ground.
“But he did get pushed because we did play against some good competition,” added Bradley, whose team made it to the state semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Lausanne. “He got pushed against Lausanne, St. George’s, BGA and Milan.
“There were some weeks that he was a complete mismatch for our opponents. But he did a good job in practice, doing things to make himself better, and in games he did not let himself get complacent.”
He’s big man on campus now. But we hear he’s trying to blend in even off the field. And he’s good at that, too.