KNOXVILLE — When Trey Smith did not participate in Tennessee's first spring football scrimmage on April 1, it wasn't because he was injured, suspended, under academic obligation or dealing with any of the other things that typically keep college players off the field.
"It was kind of a reality check," Volunteers coach Butch Jones said. "He was absent because he went back home for prom."
Smith may have the body of an NFL star, but the 6-foot-6, 313-pound Jackson, Tenn., resident is not yet old enough to buy lottery tickets.
At only 17 years old, Smith continues to impress Tennessee's coaches and players while getting his first taste of college football, just months after finishing his high school career and graduating a semester early to join the Vols for spring practice.
"He's mature beyond his years, a great person of character, competes every day," Jones said. "He's come into our football family and just worked, and he continues to earn the respect of his peers, teammates and everyone around him with the way he carries himself on a daily basis."
Smith and fellow early enrollee Riley Locklear are the rookies in a group of offensive linemen entering 2017 with a combined 111 career starts. Through 10 of Tennessee's 15 allotted spring practices, Smith said he can already feel his body adapting to the college game as he is "playing against grown men every day."
Adjusting his body to college life is another story for the University School of Jackson graduate.
"I told people back at home, the transition is not too hard in regards to the classroom," Smith said Tuesday. "My high school did a good job preparing me for it. I think the biggest transition, honestly, is just walking to class. Instead of walking down the hall a few hundred feet, I've got to go the whole way across campus and walk up the massive hill to Ayres Hall. That's the biggest transition for me right now."
As one of the nation's most highly sought recruits in the 2017 signing class, Smith's recruitment drew national sports media coverage. The prized recruit and his hard-to-miss frame are frequently recognized on some of those long walks to class.
"A lot of time people are scared," Smith said. "Just a friendly public service announcement: I will not eat you; I will not harm you; I just want to say hi."
Smith credits the rave reviews about his maturity to tragedy. In 2015, when he was 15, his mother, Dorsetta, died. While acknowledging that it's a sensitive topic, Smith said losing his mother helped him grow up.
"It was time to put childish things aside," he said. "It was time to really get prepared for my future. My mom always wanted me to get my degree and be a successful African-American man. It was time. I had to take some transitional steps. That's why I wanted to early-enroll. It was time for me to make my path in order to make her proud."
His sister, Ashley, spent her college years as a manager for the Lady Vols basketball team. Now she is an executive assistant for Jones and offers a little slice of home for her not-so-little brother.
"I think that made the transition five hours away a little bit easier," he said. "Because I'm home if my sister's here. That's made it a little bit better."
But, Smith said, he does still see Snapchat posts from high school classmates doing high school things. It makes him miss those friends, he said, even though he "couldn't ask for anything more" in Knoxville
"He's a young man that should still be in high school," Jones said. "But he's mature beyond his years."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.