The 2017 season may have been an utter disaster for Tennessee, but it did reveal one shining, blinking bright spot heading into 2018 and beyond: Trey Smith. The Jackson, Tenn., native was a consensus 5-star recruit and played like one immediately, becoming the first Volunteer in more than 30 years to start a game at left tackle as a true freshman. He was the only Vol offensive lineman to start in all 12 games, and saw time at every position across the line except center, earning Freshman All-America honors from practically every outlet that awards a Freshman All-American team and consensus Second Team All-SEC accolades.
And then, in February, everything came to a halt. After struggling to compete off-season workouts, Smith sought medical treatment, where doctors discovered a blood clot in his lungs, causing him to spend three nights in the hospital.
Smith’s mother, Dorsetta, passed away in 2015 of congestive heart failure, so the entire Smith camp approached his issues with extra precaution piled on top of the “normal” level of precaution when blood clots are discovered inside a healthy young man’s lungs.
Smith was held out of workouts as tests were done and meetings were held, and now a consensus has emerged, one that carries both good and bad news. First, the bad. Smith will never be free of the risk of developing new blood clots. The good, as long as he doesn’t develop new clots, he should be free to return to the field.
Tennessee team doctor told ESPN’s Chris Low that Smith is cleared to resume non-contact workouts, and should be free to put the pads back on before the Vols’ season-opener opposite West Virginia in Charlotte on Sept. 1.
“He’s been cleared to do conditioning and drills as long as it’s non-contact, and probably about mid-August and sometime before the first game, he will be off the anticoagulants and able to resume contact,” Klenck said. “There’s always a risk of a new blood clot forming. There is no scenario where the risk is zero percent. There’s still a chance. You just have to be vigilant of signs and symptoms of blood clots.
“His risk of recurring blood clots would still be there, though, even if he said, ‘Hey, I’m not playing football anymore.’ He still has a risk, but there are also risks if you choose to stay on anticoagulants the rest of your life. Ultimately it was Trey’s decision.”
Jeremy Pruitt expressed caution throughout the process, and showed cautious optimism in regards to Smith’s anticipated return.
“With our team, I’ve been cautious about whether Trey returns or not because whatever happens, we’re going to do what’s best for Trey,” Pruitt said. “Having him back, I think, will give our guys confidence, but he’s only played one year of college ball and you don’t want to put unrealistic expectations on him. He didn’t go through spring ball and will miss a lot of fall camp. When he comes back, it may take him a while to play his way back into football mode.
“So I’m not sure it would be fair to judge what kind of year he’s having until Week 4 or 5 as opposed to the first week. But he loves ball, and I’m just glad he’s getting another opportunity.”
Smith, though, has left no doubt of his desire. “I’ve never been in this situation before, so I’m just ready to get back out there and really play football again, to hit somebody again,” he said.