The Tennessee Volunteers mounted an incredible comeback to defeat Indiana, 23-22, in the Gator Bowl on Thursday night in Jacksonville, Fla. They found themselves down by 13 with a little under five minutes left, but thanks to two touchdowns and a successful onside kick, they were able to rally for a remarkable victory.
– 6 straight wins
– 7 wins in our last 8
– A bowl trophy
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) January 3, 2020
As impressive as the comeback win was, it was not quite as improbable as what their starting left guard, Trey Smith, has had to overcome simply to take the field.
Smith was first informed he had blood clots in his lungs following his freshman season at Tennessee in 2017. He was cleared to play just prior to the start of his sophomore campaign in 2018, yet with five games remaining last season, Smith was pulled off the field when tests appeared to indicate the clots had reappeared.
With a bright football future now in serious doubt, Smith held tight to the firm foundation of Christ.
“It goes back to having faith,” Smith said in a recent ESPN article, “and I never lost that faith.”
Doctors eventually concluded that the 2018 tests were more consistent with potential scar tissue from Smith’s previous clots. Still, Smith had to be careful. He talked with family and with head coach Jeremy Pruitt. Most of all, he talked with God.
To god be the ultimate praise and glory!!! Corinthians 15:58 #HaveFaithandBelieve
— Trey Smith (@smithtrey98) January 3, 2020
Smith’s older sister, Ashley, remembers when her younger brother told her he would continue to play.
“He just told me that he was at a peace with everything, and while so many people out there were telling him that he needed to walk away from football and hang it up, he was being led by the Lord to stick with it and that he was going to play again,” she said in the ESPN article. “And not just play, but excel.”
Smith soon set about changing his body by eating healthier and spending extra time in the weight room and on the exercise bike. Since returning, Smith has had to severely limit contact practices for precautionary reasons. He estimates he’s had two contact practices since preseason camp. Yet he has played in every game and started all but one.
Even more remarkable, considering his practice schedule, Smith has regained his position as one of the best linemen in all of college football.
“It’s incredible to see everything he’s come back from,” Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano told ESPN. “He has barely practiced during the season, and then on game day, he comes out there and is one of the best offensive linemen in the country. It’s been inspiring for all of us.”
Smith earned Freshman All-American honors in 2017 and after this season’s performance, more honors may be headed his way.
On the field, Smith was adamant about not discussing his future publicly before Tennessee’s appearance in the Gator Bowl. With a victory in hand, Smith may soon announce whether he will declare for this April’s NFL Draft. He is certainly talented enough to be a high-round pick, but it is unknown whether his medical history will complicate things.
Off the field, Smith has been active in the Knoxville community since his arrival on campus. He’s been known to organize food drives for the homeless and collect coats for those in need. As a result, Smith was one of three finalists for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award, which recognizes leadership through outstanding courage, integrity and leadership. The award ceremony will be held on February 19.
But Smith knows he doesn’t play ultimately for the awards or even the wins and losses. Every game, every snap, every breath is a gift from his Lord and Savior.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg of what God has in store for Trey, both on and off the field,” older sister Ashley said. “And everything Trey does, he gives God the glory.”
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” — 1 Corinthians 15:58
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