Two weeks ago, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound freshman at Tennessee walked around campus with an orange sledgehammer in tow.
Like a fish out of water, Trey Smith got plenty of side-eye looks and curious glances.
One fellow student nearly spit up his coffee in the student union.
Fear not though, Big Orange Nation, Tennessee’s gentle giant is only interested in scaring folks on the football field.
“I wanted to carry it in a non-threatening way because I started really evaluating that I do sort of have a weapon,” Tennessee's rookie right guard said, chuckling.
“I got some looks, but it wasn’t too bad.”
Following his performance in Tennessee’s opener against Georgia Tech, Smith was honored with the 63 Effort Award, and instead of just keeping the sledgehammer at home for the week, he decided to become Rocky Top’s own Thor.
“Just to start that legend. To get that going,” he said, flashing a big grin. “I asked Evan Berry, and he was like, ‘You know what, as a freshman you look back on that as a senior and be like, ‘Yeah, I did that.’ I really want to leave my mark on Tennessee. I want to have some fun while I’m here.”
At this rate, the Legend of Smith and the Sledgehammer is only just getting started.
Trey Smith came to Tennessee as a consensus blue-chip recruit. He was billed as a budding offensive line prodigy at 14 and held scholarships from every major program in the country, yet the Vols’ freshman right guard has actually managed to exceed expectations very early in his career.
"He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player,” senior right tackle Brett Kendrick said. “We’re really excited to have him.”
Through three games, Smith has proven to be Tennessee’s most physical and aggressive offensive lineman. He made a block that went viral against Georgia Tech and delivered a couple crushing blows in last Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss at Florida. The Vols have run a lot of screen passes to Smith’s side, allowing the athletic mauler to get out in space and just drill folks.
“I enjoy the physicality of football,” Smith said. “Just getting in somebody’s chest and running them over. That’s the fun part about football for me.”
"He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player."
Smith still has plenty to learn, especially for an 18-year-old with just three college games under his belt. His aggression has actually backfired at times, especially in pass protection. Vols offensive line coach Walt Wells joked that Smith gets so excited beating his own man sometimes that he forgets he has a second job on a given play.
“That’s just being a young player,” Wells explained. “He’s progressing. He’s playing well.
“We’ve made those corrections and he continues to make corrections in games, which helps. He had some early issues in the game on some ‘run through stuff,’ he was blowing up the guy and he forgot about the ‘backer, to be quite honest with you. We corrected them and he corrected them. That’s what’s most important.”
Smith earned the sledgehammer because he was Tennessee’s best offensive lineman against Georgia Tech, but Week 2 was a wakeup call for the hot-shot freshman. Indiana State was only an FCS team, but Smith struggled with the Sycamores’ constant movement up front, missing a key block that caused a sack-fumble in the second half of a 42-7 win. Undeterred, Smith quickly corrected his mistakes during the following week of practice and bounced-back with a solid game in The Swamp, a venue he always wanted to visit after playing hours of games at Florida in the NCAA Football video game.
“He came out and played really well against Georgia Tech. Then he came back against Indiana State and learned that college football is an every day, every hour thing that you have to keep working your craft. You can’t let up against certain teams because if you do they’ll embarrass you,” Wells said.
“He learned that in Week 2. In Week 3, he came out and played against what we thought was one of the better 3-techniques we’ve seen and he did a nice job.
“He loves football. He loves to compete. He loves Tennessee. He told me on Saturday that he’s always dreamed of playing at Florida Field. I told him, ‘Well you’re fixing to find out.’”
Trey Smith and the Legend of the Sledgehammer. Amazing he's just an 18-year-old freshman. Kid is destined for stardom. pic.twitter.com/oh64NzGELe
— Jesse Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) September 19, 2017
Trey Smith has embodied humility, maturity and tenacity for several years now.
At 15, he was forced to overcome the loss of his mom, Dorsetta. At 17, he committed to Tennessee, but before announcing his decision, he delivered a stirring speech totally extemporaneously making sure to thank the Jackson, Tenn., community for helping him overcome his family tragedy.
Now, he’s a keg cog on Tennessee’s offensive line and one of the future stars of the program.
In just a short time on campus, Smith has infused a unit — and an entire offense — with a jolt of enthusiasm and exuberance. His effort is contagious, and Wells said Smith’s “newness” has injected the offensive line “with a spark.”
The guy Smith is creating holes for totally agrees.
“He’s a fierce competitor and he’s dominant,” tailback John Kelly said.
“He wants to try and dominate his guy every chance he gets. I definitely love that about Trey’s game. That he wants to dominate his player. That’s really how I try to run the ball as well. With Trey having that big body, it’s evident, you can see it when he does it.”
Smith has had to give the sledgehammer back, but don’t be surprised to see Tennessee’s freshman offensive line sporting the hardware again sometime soon. When he takes the field this Saturday against UMass, he’s focused on one thing.
“We all bring something to the room,” Smith said. “My high school coach and mentor has always told me to be the most physical guy out there. I want to bring a good physicality. I’ve learned it from Jashon (Robertson). My mentality is to sort of destroy people.”