When Mickey Marley glanced at the picture of a 7-year-old Trey Smith, that was hanging over the doorway of his wife’s second-grade classroom at University School of Jackson, Marley gasped.
“I asked my wife, Lisa, ‘who in the world is that?'” Marley said. “That kid is a giant. As soon as I saw that picture I knew I had to find out who he was.”
Trey Smith was unique from the moment he began playing football in middle school. He was dominant as a four-year star lineman at USJ and a highly coveted recruit ranked No. 1 by ESPN for the 2017 class. He signed with Tennessee and developed an emotionally strong will after enduring the death of his mother, and blood clots in his lungs that kept him from being a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.
On Sunday, Smith will play in his first Super Bowl as a starting guard for the Kansas City Chiefs. Super Bowl LVII features the Chiefs against the Philadelphia Eagles at 5:30 p.m. Central (FOX).
Those ballerina feet
Marley coached at USJ for 31 years, 26 as the head coach. He spent three years coaching Smith.
“He was blessed to have that physical size and those gifts, but he worked hard for it,” Marley said. “There’s a lot of big people walking the earth. There aren’t a lot of big people walking the earth with ballerina feet.”
Smith guided USJ to four straight Division II-A playoff appearances and back-to-back semifinal games in 2015 and 2016. Rusty Bradley took over the USJ program in 2016 and coached one season in Jackson.
“It was a mad-house when I got on USJ’s campus,” Bradley said. “College coaches were everywhere. There was (former Tennessee coach) Butch Jones, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Nick Saban coming to the school.”
Bradley recalls hardly ever having a conversation with Smith about his recruitment.
“Trey’s whole agenda, his senior year, was to help his teammates and to win games,” Bradley said.
Bradley said Smith shut down his recruitment the summer prior to his senior year in 2016 and he never missed a team workout or practice.
“He didn’t even miss class,” Bradley said. “If anyone could have taken advantage of his status at the school it would have been him.”
Working through hardships
That commitment to his teammates was a trait displayed in his home life. His mother died in February of 2015 at Vanderbilt Medical Center during Trey’s junior year at USJ.
“You watch him go through that and it’s tough as a coach to see a kid have to endure that,” Marley said. “Trey wasn’t any different than any other kid. It was hard on him and his family. I can tell you, I lost my mother last year, and I’m a 64-year-old man. I didn’t handle my mom’s death half as well as Trey handled his.”
Smith channeled his emotions into football and led USJ to a 9-4 season in 2015. The next year, under Bradley, he found himself practicing with assistant coach Bryce King, the only person big enough to handle Smith who had grown to 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds.
During the 2016 playoffs, Bradley moved Smith from left to right tackle repeatedly, depending on which side the Bruins would run the ball. The results was a 31-19 win over BGA. And Bradley was present when Smith made his announcement to sign with Tennessee on ESPN in December of 2016.
“Saban and Meyer showed up to school that morning before the announcement,” Bradley said. “Urban was supposed to be at the school at 11 a.m. He showed up an hour and half early. So I had to talk with Urban in our football office until Saban was done talking with Trey.”
After a freshman year in Knoxville that landed him freshman All American honors in 2017, Smith was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs in February 2018. He missed spring football and returned to the team a few weeks before the start of the 2018 season. He started all seven games before the clots returned in October.
Smith finished his college playing career at UT but medical questions dogged his pre-draft scouting report and he was a sixth-round pick of the Chiefs in 2021. Undeterred, Smith earned a staring spot in K.C. by Week 1 in his rookie season and has held that position since.
“There isn’t a more deserving person this could be happening to,” Marley said. “He’s a great person, period. And we get to watch him Sunday in the Super Bowl. How surreal is that?”
This content was originally published here.