KNOXVILLE – When Trey Smith was named this year’s winner of the Pat Summitt Ignite Greatness Award, his sister imagined the news sparking quite the celebration.
“I think it’s safe to say Mom and Coach Summitt are having a party in heaven over this award,” Ashley Smith said via Twitter last week, when her younger brother was tabbed to receive the honor in July at the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Trey Smith, an All-SEC offensive lineman for the Vols, will be the eighth recipient of the award, which celebrates individuals for realizing their potential.
In Smith’s case, he’s overcome a blood cot condition that nearly ended his career to become UT’s most accomplished active player.
The first honoree was Summitt, who recorded 1,098 career victories and led the Lady Vols to eight national championships in 38 seasons. She was recognized in 2012, the year she stepped down because of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She died in 2016 after a five-year battle with the illness.
Smith became acquainted with Summitt through his sister, who served as a Lady Vols’ team manager. She’s now the director for student-athlete career development at the Thornton Athletics Student Life Center.
Trey Smith considered the award in the context of his background by saying. “I take a lot of pride in being a Tennessean.”
In that sense, the honor speaks highly of his lineage as well. Smith’s mother, Dorsetta, died when he was 15 years old. Ashley Smith called her “the rock of the family” and essentially used the language of the Summitt award on Monday in describing her influence on her children.
“I think she really saw our potential and really pushed us to reach our dreams,” Ashley said.
The ripple effect was evident in Trey Smith’s decision to forego early entry into the NFL Draft this spring and return for his senior season. He became quite emotional in explaining the importance of honoring his mother’s wishes and getting his degree.
“She would be proud,” he said. “She would be really proud.”
His sister has become better acquainted with the same feeling. Since their mother died, Ashley Smith believes that her relationship with Trey has “totally changed to where I felt like a momma bear to him. I worry more about him.”
She’s conceding then to quite some transformation. Ashley is nine years older than Trey and can remember winning wrestling matches with someone who’s grown to be 6-foot-6, 325 pounds. She also recalled their father, Henry, admonishing them during one of their squabbles by saying that if something ever happened to their parents, “it’s only you two.”
When something did happen to Dorsetta, Ashley said that the personal fallout was “really bad.”
She didn’t want to get out of bed some days. She cried sometimes at a moment’s notice.
“I didn’t think I’d live a year after my mom’s passing,” she said. “I couldn’t function.”
She eventually talked things through with her father and got help. She recovered and rediscovered her potential, in part, because of her brother.
“He needs me,” she said of her reasoning. “I didn’t want to put him in a situation where he’s lost his sister too.”
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.