Trey Smith will play Saturday but Pruitt vague about plan moving forward
A day after finding out that former 5-star Michigan transfer Aubrey Solomon is eligible to play for Tennessee this fall, the Vols learned their best offensive lineman will be available in Week 1, too.
Junior guard Trey Smith will return to the football field Saturday afternoon against Georgia State (3:30 p.m., ESPNU) after battling blood clots since the spring of 2018.
"My family and I consulted with several of the best doctors in the country, and a plan has been developed that allows me to compete with my teammates on gameday," Smith said in a statement.
"My family and I are confident in that plan. The coaches and staff here at Tennessee have always had my best interests at heart and I can't thank them enough. Thanks to all of the fans and my teammates for all of their support.”
Three days earlier, head coach Jeremy Pruitt was much more cautious when discussing Smith’s chances to play this season, calling the junior “a game-time decision” and that “the plan has not changed with Trey.” Pruitt added that Tennessee had continued to work with “medical folks” to find a way to “allow him the opportunity to play.”
On Wednesday, they settled on a solution all parties found feasible.
At least for now. Smith is cleared for Week 1, but intrigue remains surrounding what the plan is for the whole season.
Pruitt made it clear in both his written statement and subsequent comments Wednesday evening that he wasn’t interested in discussing how Smith got cleared or what the plan is moving forward, simply noting instead it was Smith’s decision to play Saturday and he was happy for him.
"This is Trey's decision and our medical staff has done a great job throughout this entire process," Pruitt said in the statement.
"The main priority has been and always will be Trey's health. Our doctors have implemented a plan that will allow Trey to play, and we are excited for him.”
He later added, “This is something that Trey and his family decided to do, and along with our doctors here at the university and people across the country have come up with a plan to be able to play the game that he loves. … We’re not going to go into the plan. We’re keeping it in-house.”
Three years ago, Smith’s mom, Dorsetta, passed away from congestive heart failure at 51 and Smith faced his own potentially life-threatening condition when the blood clots first emerged in February of 2018.
During winter workouts, Smith was having a difficult time getting through conditioning, leading to a checkup that discovered blood clots in his lungs. He missed all spring of 2018 and was mostly a non-contact participant during training camp last summer. However, Smith was cleared to play in early August and started Tennessee’s first seven games at left tackle. His sophomore season became derailed though when team doctors realized the blood clots had return.
Smith was shut down from football activities, and while he participated in offseason conditioning and light drills this summer, the 6-foot-5, 325-pound lineman has juggled nearly nearly nine months of uncertainty regarding his football future.
That future is still a bit cloudy though, as it is unclear if Smith is totally cleared or must pass some hurdle each week. The key is that Smith wanted to play football again and the junior doggedly worked to find a way to return to the field. After months of consulting with specialists around the country, he found the answer he was hoping for on Wednesday.
“Trey has wanted to play the entire time. There’s not been any secrets about that. It’s why his family throughly investigated this, along with our medical staff to figure out a way to give him the best opportunity to have success,” Pruitt said.
“Not only right now, but for the rest of his life.”
Smith has spent all of fall camp working with team doctors to manage his conditioning and prepare a plan for contact.
In the last week, he has increasingly upped both his reps and contact in practice to be more prepared for the season. Pruitt said Smith is in the best shape of his life and has dropped nearly 40 pounds in since he became the head coach.
Smith will shift inside for the Vols in 2019, returning to the left guard spot he dominated at times as a freshman. Pruitt believes Smith is much more comfortable at guard and wants “to give him a chance to be at his best.”
In 2017, Smith started all 12 games and earned second team All-SEC honors and freshman All-America honors.
He’s likely to start Week 1 for Tennessee again, but Pruitt was coy on how many snaps Smith would play or even how game-ready he is.
“Trey is like any other guy on our team. He’ll definitely play some. How much? I don’t know,” Pruitt said.
“I don’t think it’s smart to let our opponents know how many snaps Trey is or is not going to play.”