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Trey Smith returning to Tennessee for 2020 season

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A shocking decision from the Tennessee star.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 South Carolina at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In what turned out to be one of the more shocking decisions in college football, offensive lineman Trey Smith has elected to return to Tennessee for his senior year. Smith announced the decision at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Smith’s name has been a mainstay atop the SEC since 2017, when he started all 12 games as a true freshman and collected All-SEC honors. From there, it’s been a bumpy ride. Soon after his freshman year, it became public that Smith was dealing with a medical condition that provoked blood clot issues. He was shut down after the first seven games—where he still performed very well.

There was a period of time after the 2018 season where many (including this author) thought Smith would retire completely from football. Instead, he came back for the 2019 season and started in 11 games, putting together yet another year deserving of recognition. Despite being a bit more strict on his minutes this season, Smith returned to his 2017 form.

It’s hard to understate what Tennessee is getting with Smith coming back to school. Not only do they have their starting left guard back—they have a legitimate early NFL draft pick on their roster. Smith playing at 100 percent is a top-5 lineman in the entire country. Most thought he’d leave because of the uncertainty with his health and the small window of time for NFL players to be successful. Instead, he wants to be a part of the team which attempts to take Tennessee to the next level.

Let’s move beyond the on-field effect for a second. Is there a clearer sign that Trey Smith truly loves Tennessee? He could’ve easily transferred after 2017 and gone to basically any school he wanted. He could’ve checked out mentally and started looking forward to the NFL once 2018 was over. He could’ve done any number of things...but he chose to stay at Tennessee and become one of the unquestioned leaders of the team. Through all the rough losses and embarrassing moments, Smith was a steady presence even when he wasn’t dressed out in pads.

Now, Tennessee keeps him after a finish strong to 2019. Smith figures to be the leader of the offensive line that’s proven essential to the quick turnaround of program fortunes. With Vols fans expecting more in 2020, the team will need all the help they can get. Smith is all that and more.