Trey Smith

Trey Smith, #73, is one of 20 semifinalists for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award. 

Trey Smith will fulfill a promise he made to his late mother by graduating this May. Another promise, one to play in the NFL, will have to wait as Trey Smith announced his decision to return for his senior season Thursday.

“My mom was sick, I promised that I’d receive my degree and diploma and that I would play in the NFL one day,” Smith said Thursday. “I wanted to be 100% sure of my decision. With that being said, I'll honor my mother Dorsetta Smith. I’ve made up my mind and I don’t expect to ever look back. I’m going to stay at the University of Tennessee.”

Smith’s words mirrored those Peyton Manning said 22 years earlier when Manning stunned the football world to return to Tennessee.

“When I knew I was going to come back I wanted to pay homage to the G.O.A.T,” Smith said. “Best to ever do it here. One of the best to ever do it obviously, of all time. I just wanted to bring that little piece of legacy back to Tennessee.”

Smith’s decision wasn’t as simple as most deciding whether to stay for their senior season or to go pro, due to medical conditions Smith has dealt with since the end of his freshman season.

The Jackson, Tennessee native was coveted by every school in the country, but Smith elected to stay home and play for the state’s flagship university. Following a freshman year that saw Smith shine and earn SEC All Freshman team honors, Smith was diagnosed with blood clots, clouding his football future.

Smith would play eight games as a sophomore before an issue with the disease took him back off the field

With a specific plan is place, Smith played the 2019 season and starred for Tennessee helping lead the Vols back to a bowl game while earning first team All SEC Honors.

Most had pegged Smith as a near lock to declare for the NFL Draft, his pure talent gave him a first-round grade, but due to the blood clot issues, Smith projected to be picked in the third round.

“There’s still questions obviously circulating,” Smith said. “Obviously, you want to leave when your stock’s the highest. There’s a lot of concerns, so in my mind it wasn’t a good decision. I’m staying this year, proving myself, proving my worth, proving my health is good.”

Between the health concerns and the desire to fulfill the promise he made to his mother Smith decided that one more year on Rocky Top was best for him.

“In the end, I hadn’t received my degree yet,” Smith, who plans to graduate in May, said. “Of course, if I did make the decision to go to the NFL, the day I was done playing I’d come back to finish my degree. It’s one of the things she always emphasized growing up. You have to get an education. It’s something they can never take away from you.”

With Smith’s return Tennessee will bring back all five starters from this season’s much improved offensive line. In just a two-year stretch, the Vols offensive line has the chance to go from a liability to one of the SEC’s best.

For Jeremy Pruitt, it’s not just the football player returning to Tennessee, but the student athlete and leader returning to Knoxville.

“I’ve had the privilege of covering a lot of outstanding young men throughout my career,” Pruitt said. “I will say that Trey is as good a student, as good a representative, as good a teammate as anyone I’ve ever been around.” 

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