Tennessee football: An open letter to Trey Smith
It’s time to consider anything from this point forward as a gift whether it’s football or life. That’s a lot on a man as young as you.
It’s probably a very good thing that you were good enough to rise from a high school football player to one of the top freshmen offensive linemen in the nation in 2017. As a former 5-star prospect, you lived up to the billing. It was pretty amazing when you started every game for the Vols that season. No freshman had started at left tackle for the Vols in 30-plus years. The talent you displayed was even more amazing. However, the true blessing was yet to come.
Had you been just a student and not a student-athlete, you might not have received the medical attention that would unfortunately sideline your career after just 7 games during your sophomore season. Things could have been much direr had you not received the subsequent medical attention.
Blood clots are not something to be taken lightly. They needed to be addressed and UT did that swiftly, which meant you had to be taken off of the field. It must have been tough to watch your teammates practice without you. However, football is far less important than life. Remember, your overall health is the most important thing. Football is fleeting. So is life, but hopefully not nearly as quickly.
Perhaps you’ll make it back to the football field. We all know you want to. It’s obvious in your work, your attitude. That’s never been in question. We all smiled at the video of your pancake block earlier this week.
Perhaps you’ll make it back sooner than later. Don’t fret it if your level of play has changed. Coming back isn’t easy. I could drop a quote from a “Rocky” movie in here, but I’ll choose to instead just say, “Be patient.” It will take time to return to become the same player you once were — if it happens at all.
I recall covering Charles Hathaway, who played basketball for UT in the late 1990s. He was diagnosed with a blood clot in 1997. Despite his lofty recruiting ranking, Hathaway never became a superstar on the court, but he is still living what will hopefully be a long life. I know it might be difficult to grasp now, but a wife and children are far more important than a win at Athens or Gainesville — or even Tuscaloosa.
Perspective is the most important thing if the football endeavor doesn’t go the way you’d like it to, the way Vols fans want it to. Being an NFL superstar would be awesome, but it couldn’t compare to being a dad one day.
In other words, temper expectations. You’re in good hands. By signing with an elite Power 5 program, you know you’re being cared for. Don’t expect to be the incredibly dominant force you’ve been in the past. It’s important to walk the path. When it’s time to run, you’ll know.
As for just the whole football thing, you’ve already shown you’re a positive for Tennessee’s program and there’s no doubt you’ll do the same if you return to the field. There has been no public griping about your condition nor UT’s decision to keep you on the sideline. You could have transferred in hopes of a more lenient medical staff. Transferring, after all, seems to be all the rage nowadays. Instead, your wisdom won out.
Hopefully you’re not bitter even though you’d have every reason to be. Think about it. You were on a fast track to the NFL. You were scheduled to help former UT head coach Butch Jones rebuild the Vols. Neither quite worked out, but the NFL is still very much in grasp — as long as you’re healthy. Really, that’s all anybody wants.
As for the NFL, try not to think about it. Cherish and savor every moment of being in college whether you play football again or not. Time moves fast. I know that’s tough to see at your age but it’s true. Just ask your parents.
Your hard work and dedication got you to this point. Those traits will serve you well into the future.