JACKSON, Tenn. -- Offensive tackle Trey Smith considers being the top-ranked player in the ESPN 300 a blessing, but admittedly he feels the pressure and attention he receives to be a little overwhelming.
The Tennessee native’s stress and anguish has only been compounded after the 17-year-old’s mother passed away in February of 2015. Now, it’s Trey’s support network that’s bringing him through this challenging time.
Trey's father, Henry Smith, with help from his oldest daughter Ashley, has helped to support and raise Trey.
“We went from four to three,” said Trey of the death of his mother. “At that time, we all really needed each other as a family and just emotionally we are stronger than we’ve ever been. My mom was really the heart of the family and it’s sort of like we are missing that piece but my dad has done an excellent job of filling that void in our lives and being there to support us. He makes sure to tell us he loves us every day.”
Henry, while working a job that requires a lot of traveling, does the best he can to shield his son from some of the outside pressures of being a highly regarded football player.
“We really don’t talk about football during the season,” he said. “After his games we’ll exchange hugs and tell him he played a good game and then we’ll come home and I’ll check to see if he’s OK, but beyond that, we don’t talk about football.
“We do that so he can kind of escape everything. Now when we go places, everybody wants an autograph, want a picture, want a hand shake and things like that and I try to steer him away from things like that and isolate him because No. 1, I want him to be a good person, but also I want him to be a good student. There’s more in his life than just football.”
While raising two teenagers, as a widower, is certainly not an easy task, Henry can take solace in the fact that his eldest daughter, Ashley, has started to become a mother figure for Trey and has also been very involved with Trey’s recruitment.
Trey has narrowed his college choices down to Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss and Tennessee. Ashley works in the football operations department at Tennessee as the assistant to head coach Butch Jones, but even with her demanding schedule, she takes time out to talk to her brother almost every day on the phone.
“I just tell Trey to look at the success of programs and also when he visits various campuses, when he speaks with coaches on the phone, just to see how does he feel? I feel like as time progresses, God will lead him and impress upon his heart the place that’s right for him,” Ashley said.
“I just tell him to go off that and to not pay attention to what people are saying or the hype that comes with a program but really to look at it as beyond football, whatever school you choose, this is where you’ll be daily, in and out. Just to look at the places that are going to have the best opportunities for him athletically and academically but also life after football and college.”
With Trey's Dec. 6 decision date less than a month away, the choice will come with help from the entire family.
Henry said his son’s final decision will come down to Trey, but his job as a father is to lead him and give him all the information available so that he can make the best possible decision.
“The one thing I really try to encourage to Trey, is to use your gut,” Henry said. “Sometimes when we go visit places and coaches are talking, I feel like they are giving sales pitches, but your gut will tell you if that person is sincere and if you are a good fit at that place or organization. I think there are a lot of good programs, successful programs, but how are you going to be as a person, as a student.
“I’m trusting my 17-year-old kid in the hands of someone else. I want to make sure that I’ve helped him make a good choice and in a good nurturing environment. I really want him to not get caught up in the hype and the hospitality and watch the interaction between the players that are already there and the coaches.”
While Trey’s mother might not physically be here to go through this recruiting experience, her guidance will still resonate with him.
“It’s an emotional struggle every day,” Trey said. “Obviously, not having her present even at a time like right now is tough. I know she’s with me, not here physically, but spiritually, she’s watching over me.
"She told me some great words and that was to always to keep my eyes toward God and it’s going to be OK. I sort of take that day-by-day. Believe me, there’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about her, but it’s just an emotional struggle but it’s more motivation to be better, as a person and as a football player.”