MORGANTOWN — Tennessee wasn’t sure if offensive lineman Trey Smith would ever play football again.
The 6-foot-6, 335-pounder missed all of spring camp with an undisclosed medical condition, but it was later revealed that the sophomore had blood clots in his lungs.
The program wanted to be extra careful with Smith since his family has a history of heart problems — his mother died in 2015 of congestive heart failure. But Smith did not want to give up football entirely.
After six months of treatment using blood thinners and no football activities, Smith got the long-awaited news he was waiting for — all clear to resume football activities. On Aug. 21, Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt confirmed Smith was cleared for full-contact.
“I think Trey is probably excited to be out there. I’m sure the rest of the guys are, too,” Pruitt said. “You know, he jumped right in there and took all the reps. We probably limited him a little bit to kind of build him up there in a couple of periods, but he looks like he’s been doing everything else except for hitting, so it’s not really a surprise there.”
It’s rare for true freshman to play, let alone start, on the offensive line, but Smith was a consensus top five recruit in the class of 2017. He jumped right into the Vols’ rotationand was named freshman All-American
In what was a poor season overall for Tennessee offensively, Smith’s versatility allowed him to bounce all over the line, playing every position but center.
But now, as a sophomore, he’s locked into the starting left tackle spot, protecting the blind side of Keller Chryst or Jarrett Guarantano, whoever wins the starting quarterback job.
West Virginia will have defensive ends Ezekiel Rose, Reese Donahue and Jabril Robinson going head-to-head with Smith on the majority of snaps and D-line coach Bruce Tall knows it will be a tall task.
While Smith’s size if noticeable, his skill level is what caught Tall’s attention.
“It’s definitely his ability more than his size that jumps out at you,” he said. “We study areas that we may be able to exploit but he’s a great talent. They took a young guy like him and were able to play him at right guard, right tackle, left guard, left tackle.
“I mean, that’s unheard of, especially for a true freshman.”
Tall praised Smith’s smarts with his ability to know different blocking assignments depending on what position he was playing.
As for Rose, it doesn’t matter if he’s lined up on the left or right side, he doesn’t pay attention to the personnel opposite of him, regardless if it’s someone the caliber of Smith.
“I just play every play as hard as I can and as fast as I can,” Rose said. “I don’t try to worry about who’s in the game, I just do my job like my coach tells me to do. I just worry about me then it doesn’t matter who’s out there.”