Tennessee's Trey Smith, who had lung issues, wants to play college football season

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee offensive lineman Trey Smith, who fought back from blood clots in his lungs to earn first-team All-SEC honors a year ago, said the voices of those players wanting to play should be strongly taken into account before any decision is made to cancel the 2020 college football season.

"It would tick me off to my core if we're snubbed and that opportunity gets taken away from me to go out there and prove myself," Smith told ESPN. "I'm not knocking any president or chancellor, who absolutely do fabulous jobs, but it would be awesome as players if we could be informed and heard from and quit finding out things about the season possibly being canceled on Twitter and in the media."

Smith says he understands the risks involved with the coronavirus pandemic and is well aware that his risk factor is elevated because of his medical history.

"It would be borderline ignorant to say that it's not concerning," Smith said. "We've definitely talked about it as a family, prayed about it and asked God to protect me. The doctors at Tennessee and Coach [Jeremy] Pruitt have been great at keeping us informed on everything. But at the end of the day, we as players have to take the proper precautions. So, yes, it's something you weigh: Is it worth it? Is it not worth it? Ultimately, to get to my dream goals and aspirations, it's worth the risk for me."

Smith, ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect when he signed with the Vols in 2017, said the overwhelming number of the players on Tennessee's team and players on other teams he's talked with absolutely want to play this season. But he also understands that everybody's situation is different.

"I want to play. I want to play safely, and that's the consensus across the sport and all the guys I talk to," Smith said. "We all want to play the game of football that we love. We're all out here working our butts off in this hot sun and trying to get better at our craft and perfect our craft.

"I hope people see that side of it, and for the season to be in jeopardy like this ... is really disappointing."

Smith pointed to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields as projected top-5 picks in next year's NFL draft who are lobbying to play. "For them to speak out, that says volumes about their character and their competitive spirit, in my opinion," Smith said. "But for a lot of guys, the season is a chance to improve their stock and feed their passion and do what they love. Taking that away from people is a big deal. We're talking about impacting people's lives, not just now, but five or 10 years down the road."

Smith, who said he's as healthy as he has been, is doing everything he can to mitigate the risks. He wears his mask "24-7 any time I'm around human beings" and jokes he even has one on when he goes through a drive-thru at a restaurant.

"The virus is everywhere in America right now," Smith said. "But if you look at most football facilities, the virus has been transmitted outside the facility. You have more of a risk getting it somewhere else than you do playing football. And with all of the students getting ready to come back to campus, it's going to present more risks. But that's when it's on us as players, if you're serious about the season, you take the proper precautions and wear your masks and stay away from parties and big groups of people and understand that we have a greater purpose to play this season."

Smith was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs following a freshman season at Tennessee in 2017 that saw him earn Freshman All-America honors. After being cleared by doctors before the 2018 season, Smith was pulled off of the field for the final five games when tests appeared to show that the blood clots had returned. But after further consultation with multiple specialists who reviewed Smith's case, doctors determined the tests performed in October 2018 were suboptimal and more consistent with potential scar tissue from Smith's prior blood clots and not recurrent blood clots.

Smith returned to play in every game last season and if there is a 2020 season, projects as one of the most dominant interior offensive linemen in college football.

"I've set a group of goals I want to accomplish in life, and not having the chance to play this season would be hard to grasp after everything I've overcome," Smith said. "I want to go out there and prove myself. I have a lot of doubters out there, and it really ticks me off even thinking about it. I really wanted to reintroduce myself again this season as a dominant force.

"But at the end of the day and regardless of circumstances and regardless of how all this goes, God always has a way of working things out."

Smith's advice to his fellow players around the country who are trying to save the season is to keep speaking out. Even then, he's not sure it will be enough.

"Regardless of what we say probably isn't going to shift the liability focus on the major decision-makers," Smith said. "As we sit here, you know I want to play. I want to prove myself. I know Trevor Lawrence wants to play. I know Justin Fields wants to play. We all want to play, but there's so much concern and so much negative attention drawn to this that I don't know how likely it is that we get to play."

And if the season were to be moved to the spring, Smith isn't sure how that would resonate with many of the players. "It's going to upset the balance of things going forward," he said. "You would have to push the next season back and probably even have to delay the next year, in my opinion. You want to have a proper offseason for our bodies to rest and get better. You can't have it in the spring and then start on time (in 2021). It's just not viable."