Camp life can be a grind during the hot summer days of August. The long hours and hard practices can turn into team building and bonding, though. Rooming together during fall camp, offensive linemen Brett Kendrick and Trey Smith had the chance to see that first-hand, as the duo grew tighter as both friends and teammates.
"We had a great time in camp," Kendrick said. "We had spent time together, but I hadn't spent overly to much time with him. The first night, he and I stayed up until about 1:30 a.m. just talking. We talked about high school stuff, college stuff and what we want to do after college. We knew each other, but it was deeper and it was like that every night. We realized that we are a lot alike."
The two first bonded during a recruiting visit a couple of years back when Smith was a junior at the University School of Jackson. At the time, USJ had just hired former CAK head coach Rusty Bradley to lead their program. The younger Bradley would take his father, Mark, a former Tennessee assistant along with him. Both Bradley's served as coaches to Kendrick at CAK which gave a common denominator between he and the west Tennessee product.
"I used to look over at the sidelines in high school and coach (Mark) Bradley would make H and then a C with his hands that would mean I did something really bad," Kendrick said with a laugh. "He told me that coach Bradley wanted him to tell me that I was horse crap and so that was the first thing he ever said to me about coach Bradley (laughs)."
A relationship started with that point of fun and flourished from there, as Kendrick would have opportunities to see Smith while visiting the Bradley's in Jackson.
"It was really cool," Bradley said. "It was around Memorial Day and we were in our summer program. He was around and there is a wings place called Stevo's Hot Wings that Trey loves. He had invited us with some the other players. It was just neat to see."
Bonding over wings is a Smith tradition. During his recruitment, he would scope out wing spots at each school he visited. That time with Kendrick at Stevo's gave him a good chance to see how college athletes interact and work.
"Our relationship is pretty unique having the same coach even though we went to two different schools," Smith said. "Brett is the old man in the room. He's a great role model and leader. He just helped me with technique and a tremendous guy to room with."
Kendrick was very impressed the work ethic Smith showcased. After all, he was one of the top talents in the country, but none of that mattered. He worked and grinded like he had a chip on his shoulder.
"He works hard and even in high school when he was bigger than everyone else," Kendrick said. "He worked harder than everyone else. He got here and jumped right in and has done a great job of working to our level and outworking some people."
A great example of that was heading into his senior season. The USJ Summer program consisted of 20 workouts. Smith was attending camps, visiting schools and yet only missed one day and that was due to flight delay coming back from the Opening.
Smith is a mountain. He has been every bit as good as advertised during his eight months on campus. He's slated to start at right guard in his first college game tomorrow night.
"It's hard to come in and be that talented," Kendrick said. "I knew he was going to be good, but I didn't know he was going to be this good. In my mind, this is a once in a lifetime deal. You just don't see guys that are his size and can move and do the things he doesn't. It's God given ability and he's far impressed me in what I thought he could be."
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Kendrick, a Knoxville native, has traveled the long and winding path to being one of the key seniors on this football team.
"In my opinion (Bradley is) the only reason I'm at Tennessee today," Kendrick said. "When I transferred to CAK, things changed. I hit a growth spurt, but I wouldn't be here today without Mark Bradley. That goes for college too. I still send him clips to this day. If I'm in a slump, I'll call him and he's always there to calm me back down. He and Jarvis Reado both taught me so much."
And those phone calls came early and often during his first few seasons at Tennessee. It was the veteran Bradley who knew just how to talk to his former pupil.
"I've seen that movie before and I knew if he kept his nose to the grindstone and keep grinding," Bradley said. "Every time he would come out of it because he's a smart player."
Now both at Tennessee, Kendrick and Smith are arguably the two strongest players on the team. During summer conditioning, new strength coach Rock Gullickson had the players rep 275 pounds on the bench press. Who led the way? It was Kendrick leading the entire team with 19 reps, while Smith was right behind him with 18. Smith probably won't surprise fans because of his stature, but Kendrick can often be overlooked for his strength and athleticism.
"The first three plays I put on his highlight tape were him playing basketball," Bradley said of Kendrick. "He's a 300-pounder leading the fast break, making no look passes and shooting threes. Brett was immature. He was happy, go-lucky and I used to call him a fat happy kid. He's matured now and he's a talented player. He has the potential in my opinion because he's smart, athletic and has grown into toughness. He played through a knee, ankle and elbow injury last year. He's tougher now."
Kendrick's resolve has been impressive, and he's quick to credit his high school line coach. It's something that Smith has found himself doing during spring and fall camp. Former Pro-Bowler and VFL coordinator Antone Davis has pointed out to Smith the characteristics that he has noticed being a Bradley disciple.
"He told me that he is a lot like coach Fulmer in his teaching style," Smith said. "I just remember that I was working out and I didn't know what to expect and there was this older guy just watching me work. I remember thinking this was kind of odd, but he came up to me after and told me how much he was going to teach me and develop me. He's been around top tier guys in his time and a lot of the things he taught me still translate to the field.
"Things like the corner-cat blitz, I didn't know what he was talking about at the time, but coming to college I see what he was trying to say. The different nuances he has taught me, I still take to the field today."
In reality, it's not just Kendrick and Smith who have been impacted by the former Tennessee assistant. Bradley also helped coach current Vols Austin Pope and Josh Smith. The longtime coach was instrumental for many linemen in the 90s where he coached first round picks Davis, Charles McRae and others. These two join a long list that he will forever be connected to because his fingerprints are all over the Tennessee offensive line.
"Coach Bradley takes a lot of pride in having us all over there," Kendrick said. "He comes to watch us practice and he tells us that we will always be his guys. He told me when Trey was coming in to take him under my wing and show him the ropes. I think I'm a good resource for Trey to have. I think it's good for him to have someone he trusts and he knows he can come to me."
And Smith takes being a Bradley boy to heart. He wants to perform for the man they call, 'Old Bradley'.
"He was at practice and I was kind of lackadaisical," Smith said. "I saw him and I was like I have to pick it up because I'm a product of his and I want to make him proud in that sense. It was a great experience having him here."
After one year at USJ, The Bradley's made the move back to Knoxville by taking the vacant job at Grace Christian. Both Kendrick and Smith have been by to see Bradley this summer and he enjoys each visit.
"Those are my guys," Bradley said. "They will always be my guys. When I'm gone, those are the guys I want to carry me off. When they are 50 and have four kids, they will be with me. That's the fun part of all of this."
And come tomorrow night, nobody will be having more fun than two kids between the white lines and one veteran coach watching each and every moment.