FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WVLT) -- In conjunction with Super Bowl LIV, Tennessee offensive lineman Trey Smith was awarded with the inaugural Fritz Pollard Trophy at the 15th annual Johnnie L. Cochran Foundation Jr. Salute to Excellence Awards, hosted by the Fritz Pollard Alliance on Thursday evening at the Broward County Convention Center.
The Fritz Pollard Trophy honors a college player who has exemplified extraordinary courage, community values, and exceptional performance on the field, while the awards ceremony celebrates individuals and organizations who display outstanding performances on the field, in front offices and across the U.S. by exemplifying diversity, courage and meritorious performance.
In a room full of NFL legends, including Harry Carson, John Lynch and Tony Dungy, VFLs Jacques McClendon and Reggie McKenzie, and NFL executives including the league's commissioner Roger Goodell, the 6-6 Smith delivered as heartfelt of a speech as his play on the field thanking his family, including his late mother Dorsetta Smith, and Vols coaching staff and medical staff for contributing to his success.
"When I got my letter from Tennessee, I knew it was my home," Smith said. "I've had my fair share of obstacles and setbacks. My mom died at the age of 15. Being quite honest, I fell into a state of depression and not really sure what my purpose was.
"I had to rely on the things that I always relied – my family and faith."
Smith found the recognition to be particularly special because of the legacy of the trophy's namesake Fritz Pollard, who was the first African-American to become a head coach in the NFL and one of the first two African-American players in the league. Recalling Pollard's historical milestone and with Black History Month a couple a days away, Smith says the moment means much more.
"Knowing the legacy that Fritz Pollard established and to be receiving an award with his name is truly humbling and a blessing," the Jackson, Tenn., native said. "This time of year, especially, I often think of those that came before me and paved the way for many of the opportunities that I am able to take advantage of both in football and outside of my sport.
"The scripture Deuteronomy 6:11, 'we drink from wells we did not dig, we are warmed by fires we did not build', is something I think about and hope to be able to pass that energy on to others."
Others to be honored include the Miami Dolphins Football Club (Paul J. Tagliabue Award), Richard Lapchick, PhD (Dan Rooney Lifetime Achievement Award), and NFL Executive Vice President, Football Operations Troy Vincent, President of 49ers Enterprises and EVP of Football Operations Paraag Marathe and the City Furniture Florida Business, who will all receive Salute to Excellence Awards.
Smith has been forging an impressive legacy of his own both on and off the gridiron.
Smith was diagnosed with blood clots in February of 2018, but returned to play for the Vols in 2018. Another setback occurred in October of 2018 and Smith missed the final five games of the season. He again fought back to return to football. A plan was developed by the Tennessee medical staff, in collaboration with specialists, which minimizes Smith's risk for recurrent blood clots, while allowing him to play football.
Smith started 12 games at left guard in 2019 en route to All-SEC First Team honors from the coaches and media. He was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week twice this fall. After missing the final five games of the 2018 season and a comeback to football questionable, Smith returned to his dominant ways and spearheaded Tennessee's six-game win streak to end the season. SEC Network analyst and offensive line expert Cole Cubelic named Smith to his All-America First Team.
The Jackson, Tenn., native continued his commitment to the community even during a busy football season. Smith is an active speaker to youth groups, elementary schools and organizations across the state and led coat drives for Knoxville Area Rescue Ministry (KARM) during the 2018 and 2019 seasons where over 1,000 coats were donated each year because of his efforts.
The grandiose evening was highlighted by remarks from Goodell who shared a few words.
"This is an important organization," Goodell said. "We have a lot to be proud of. The people that are here are committed to finding solutions. I want to take a moment to congratulate all of the award winners tonight. It is an impressive group. I can see why each of them are so deserving"
Smith will stay in South Florida until Feb. 3 along with four other Vols student-athletes as part of The Big Orange Combine, an immersive experience that includes working behind the scenes at the Super Bowl.
Smith recently announced that he will return to the Volunteers for his senior season. His commitment to his team and community continues to garner recognition as the o-lineman was selected as one of three finalists for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award given to the nation's top all-around student-athlete, which will be awarded to the winner on Feb. 18.