MOBILE, Ala. – Trey Smith was in high school the first time Titans General Manager Jon Robinson laid eyes on him, and let's just say he was impressed.
Back then Smith, who played at University School of Jackson before flourishing at the University of Tennessee, was picking up one of his Mr. Football awards, an honor he won twice as the state's top lineman, in 2015 and 2016. The awards are sponsored by the Titans.
"I was at Nissan Stadium that day, and after the event I told (Titans play-by-play man) Mike Keith, who was emceeing, (Smith) looked like an NFL player when he walked across the stage," Robinson recalled. "I said, 'He's a Sunday player one of these days."
Plenty has transpired since, but here at the Senior Bowl, Smith is doing his best to make a good impression before NFL officials. He's ready to fulfill his childhood dream of playing on Sundays while making good on another promise to his mother in the process.
The 6-foot-6, 330-pound guard, a first-team All-SEC selection in 2019 and 2020 after being named Freshman All-SEC in 2017, lit up when the topics turned to his aspirations, his late mother … and the Titans.
It turns out he knows a lot about the team.
"I am definitely a Titans fan," Smith said. "I remember when the Titans made the great run in 2008, and the Ravens ended up beating us. Kerry Collins was the quarterback, and we had Chris Johnson and LenDale White. I grew up on that, watching them. It was awesome. … That was probably the height of my Titans fandom."
But Smith has followed the team since, especially the offensive linemen.
"Taylor Lewan, that guy is a freak," Smith said. "Some of the things he can do, I can't do that. You have to be realistic with yourself. I think if there's anyone with the Titans squad I do watch a little bit and try to pattern myself after, it's Rodger Saffold. It has been cool watching him go from the Rams to the Titans, and I've enjoyed watching his film and the things he does well because he is a monster inside. Ben Jones is another person I deeply respect -- I love watching him play. The whole Titans o-line and everything they orchestrate, it's impressive."
With a smile, Smith then dropped a not-so-subtle hint.
"It would be a dream come true to play for those guys, man," Smith said of the Titans. "It is a great organization and I would be completely humbled to play there. Put in a good word for me."
Smith, of course, is now at the mercy of every NFL team, and scouts are here to see him work.
During practices this week, he's displayed the same athleticism he showed on high school fields in West Tennessee, and in East Tennessee as a Vol.
"I think Trey Smith is a freak of an athlete, and I think that he's a very intelligent person," former Oakland High standout and LSU safety JaCoby Stevens said of Smith. "There's a reason why Trey and I and Tee Higgins, it was like a cycle over who was the No.1 player in the state that year. I know that he had that scare with his health (earlier in his college career), and I'm glad to see him back and making the most out of his career."
Smith has dealt with adversity in his young life to get here.
In February 2018, Smith was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs, which caused him to miss spring practice that year. He was cleared ahead of his sophomore season and started the first seven games of the 2018 season before another medical issue caused him to miss the final five games that year. He admits it temporarily scared him.
"I just had to have faith in God through it all," Smith said. "You have some low moments, because everything you had focused on since kindergarten and built your life around, was in jeopardy. Football is an identity for a lot of us as players, so having that in question was tough. But I just had to keep believing in God, that He has a higher purpose and plan for me, and He was going to get me through it."
When Smith was just 15, he lost his mom. Dorsetta Smith fell ill and passed away unexpectedly during his sophomore year at USJ. When Smith was younger, he made a pair of promises to his mom – first to get his degree, and second to make it to the NFL.
Smith got his degree in December of 2020.
Now, he's on the NFL's doorsteps.
"It meant the world for me to get my degree, and it meant a lot for my family," Smith said. "When I was younger, I told my mom: 'I'm going to make it.' Being able to get to the NFL is a promise I made to my mom as well, so it would mean the world to me."
Smith knows he has work to do.
Looking back at his college career, he said he has to learn to play with more consistency, and with better hand placement. During practices here this week, he's played through some bad snaps while doing his best to excel against some of the top players from college football.
He wants to impress in interviews.
"It is an extreme blessing just to be here," Smith said. "What I want to do is show that I am still that player from last year. I didn't have the season go as well as I wanted to, but I still feel I am still the top guy in this class."
Robinson once again is watching, this time from the stands of Hancock Whitney Stadium on the University of South Alabama campus.
Plenty has changed since that day at Nissan Stadium, but not everything.
"He is big, he is strong, he's a long player, he is a power player," Robinson said of Smith. "I've been a fan of his since I saw him walk across the stage."