KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The massive frame that helped make Tennessee’s Trey Smith become one of the nation’s top football recruits now results in some strange looks from fellow students when he walks around campus.
”A lot of times people are scared,” Smith said. ”Just a friendly public service announcement, I will not eat you. I will not harm you. I just want to say, `Hi.'”
Smith is listed as 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, which helps explain why ESPN rated the early enrollee as the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in his class. But when coaches rave about Smith, they discuss the incoming freshman offensive tackle’s mental toughness as much as his physical prowess.
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”The first thing I can say about him is maturity,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. Smith is ”mature beyond his years. Great person of character. Competes every day. He’s come into our football family and has just worked. He continues to earn the respect of his peers, teammates and everyone around him with the way he carries himself on a daily basis. We’re obviously very excited about it.”
Smith developed that maturity in the toughest way imaginable.
He was 15 years old when his mother, Dorsetta Smith, died of heart complications. Smith said the loss of his mother made him realize he needed to grow up.
”It was just time to sort of put the childish things aside, really time to get prepared for my future,” Smith said. ”My mom always wanted me to get my degree and be a successful young African-American man. It was time. I had to take the transitional steps. That’s why I wanted to early enroll. It was just time for me to make my path in order to make her proud.”
Smith has acclimated himself to college life two months before his 18th birthday. One of the few reminders of Smith’s youth came recently when he missed a scrimmage to attend his senior prom.
His ability to adapt so well doesn’t surprise his high school coach, who remembers how the heralded prospect handled all the hoopla that came along with being a prize recruit.
”Everywhere that we went, it was a red carpet event with people taking pictures and asking for autographs and stuff,” said Rusty Bradley, who coached Smith at University School of Jackson (Tennessee). ”He never let it faze him, just stayed focused on what he was doing. The way that he handled that, I’ve seen other guys let all that get to their head, and that was never the case with Trey.”
While showing the versatility to play either tackle or guard, Smith has performed well enough that he could have a featured role as a freshman.
Smith downplays that possibility and notes how much he and incoming freshman offensive lineman Riley Locklear have discovered they still have to learn.
”If your hand is like 6 inches to the outside or you don’t take a proper step forward, you’re beat automatically,” Smith said. ”I think it’s just getting acclimated to that.”
Although he’s about a five-hour drive away from home, Smith says he hasn’t gotten homesick. He has benefited from the campus presence of his older sister, Ashley Smith, who is on Tennessee’s football staff as an executive assistant to the head coach.
”If I don’t see her in the office, she’ll probably give me a call late at night,” Smith said.
Smith doesn’t need any help in remaining level-headed as he gets accustomed to the occasional stares from classmates. He deals with that kind of attention by relying on the lessons he learned from his mother.
”Just being (ranked) No. 1 out of high school, obviously there’s a lot of heat next to your name, almost like a heat-seeking missile with people coming for you a lot of times in recruiting,” Smith said. ”I know I have to carry myself a little bit differently than the average Joe in regard to how I act.”
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