Last week, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt announced that starting left tackle Trey Smith would be out indefinitely after doctors discovered blood clots in his lungs.
On Saturday, the Vols faced South Carolina without their standout sophomore offensive lineman. Despite the news, Smith’s teammates say his positive attitude has been impressive.
“Man, Trey has been so positive about the whole situation,” senior defensive lineman Kyle Phillips said. “It really just makes you think how blessed we are to be able to play this game…it’s really a blessing to see how well he has been taking it.”
Against the Gamecocks, the Tennessee offense had what Jeremy Pruitt called its best performance of the season, despite the loss.
The Vols put up 24 points on 351 yards, including 207 through the air and 144 on the ground. Tennessee was 11/16 on third down. Replacing Smith was redshirt sophomore Marcus Tatum.
Tatum had seen action in all seven games in 2018 as a reserve. Last year, he started three games at right tackle.
“Marcus is a smart guy,” Pruitt said. “He played hard. For a guy that has not been playing left tackle, and I don’t know if he’s ever played left tackle, I am sure there’s things that he can improve on and he will.”
Despite Tatum’s success as a fill-in, Smith’s teammates have spent time reflecting on his status.
“When I heard the news, the first thing I did was I prayed,” defensive lineman Paul Bain said. “I prayed for him and for his family. The second thing I did was I immediately called him and let him know I loved him and that he is in my prayers. I pray every day for him. Hearing stuff like that really gets to me, because I know how passionate he is.
“I hope he gets better and I know he will get better,” Bain said. “I know his heart and I know his passion. I know he can come back stronger. I know he will.”
Bain was the not the only teammate to contact Smith after hearing the news. Phillips said Smith’s response was overwhelmingly positive.
“I told him to keep his head up and he just said ‘it’s alright man, God always has a plan,’” Phillips said.
Meanwhile, Tennessee sits at 3-5 on the season through eight games. With just four games remaining, the Vols need to win three games to become bowl eligible.
For some, Smith’s setback provides a rallying cry for the team.
“Trey Smith is dear to all of us,” junior wide receiver Marquez Callaway said. “I know that hurts his heart, but I know he is always going to be there for us and he wants the best for us. All we can do is play for him.”
Tennessee faces Charlotte on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET at Neyland Stadium.
“He (Smith) wants us to go out and don’t quit,” Phillips said. “We still can have a great thing going here, so we just have to make sure we keep playing.”