Kansas City Chiefs guard Trey Smith almost lost his career to blood clots. Now he’s giving back
Trey Smith's college career came to a frightening halt during his sophomore year at the University of Tennessee, when doctors found multiple blood clots his lungs.
There was a day when Kansas City Chiefs starting guard Trey Smith wondered if he’d ever play football again, let alone make it to the Super Bowl. That’s because Smith suffered from blood clots in his lungs while at the University of Tennessee.
But Smith, listed at 6-foot-6-inches and 321 pounds, will be a vital piece of the Chiefs offensive line protecting quarterback Patrick Mahomes in this year’s Super Bowl match against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Growing up in Jackson, Tennessee, Smith was one of the country’s top football prospects in high school. After making the move to Knoxville, Smith played for the Volunteers right away in his freshman season.
The blood clot disorder, known as pulmonary emboli, was discovered during Smith’s sophomore year.
The news brought his budding career to a temporary, crashing halt. Suddenly, Smith found himself struggling to finish off-season workouts, which prompted medical examinations.
“A lot was in jeopardy,” Smith said. “Think about it: About four years ago, this might not have happened.”
Smith followed a medical plan from University of Tennessee doctors to get cleared to play his junior year, but his in-season practices were restricted.
Still, Smith started 12 of 13 games, won the inaugural Fritz Pollard Award, honoring college players who have exemplified extraordinary courage, and did not allow a sack all season.
Though Smith had a chance to go pro after his junior year, he didn’t consider his level of play to be up to his standard.
“I think one of the reasons I came back is I didn’t play as well as I wanted to this year,” he told 247sports.com at the time.
Smith returned to the Vols for his senior season. Not only did his on-field play answer many questions NFL scouts would have about his prospects as a pro, but Smith used the season to honor his mother, who died in 2015 of congestive heart failure at the age of 51.
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said Smith was likely a first or second-round draft pick had he not encountered medical issues. But the Chiefs looked into his condition and made Smith their sixth-round pick.
“We have had one of the more cautious medical boards in the league,” said Veach during Super Bowl week in Arizona. “That was something we put a lot of time and effort in, but at the end of the day our doctors really felt good about the long-term outlook with Trey.”
Veach relied on medical analysis from the team’s head physician, Dr. Michael Monaco, before making the decision to draft Smith.
Veach said Monaco wanted Smith to pass three or four unique tests before he was cleared for play, but he didn’t specify what those tests were.
“Fortunately, for us, it’s worked out really well,” Veach said.
Now in his second year with the Chiefs, Smith has partnered with the National Blood Clot Alliance, as part of an NFL campaign called My Cause My Cleats.
“That’s a big thing for me,” said Smith. “Through my process, I’ve learned that a lot of young athletes, a lot of young people in general experience these things.”
Since Smith’s initial blood clot diagnosis at the age of 18, he has made it his personal mission to increase public awareness about an illness that affects nearly one million Americans every year, according to the National Blood Clot Alliance website, and kills 100,000 people each year.
“It was just a lot of hurdles to jump,” Smith said during an interview for the nonprofit. “Ultimately, I had to walk by faith and not by sight.”
Through sharing his story, Smith said he’s become a point of contact for other people who have friends or loved ones dealing with the same condition.
“It's so powerful that I can be a resource for people to go through this with, that they don't have to go through it alone,” he said.
The effort raised more than $31,000 last year.
In 2021, Smith and Chiefs center Creed Humphrey started every game as rookies. Even before they were teammates, the pair got to know each other because they attended the same training camps in high school.
“It’s been awesome getting to know the man he is, and also the player he is,” said Humphrey. “It’s been great.”
Meanwhile, with Smith healthy and on the verge of his first Super Bowl, Veach sees just the type of player the Chiefs projected him to be.
“He’s the guy that brings the attitude, toughness, and temperament,” said Veach. “He plays a nasty, violent game.”
When Smith joined his teammates Monday on the stage for Super Bowl Opening Night, the week’s big media event in Arizona, he carried with him a pillow with the 2023 Super Bowl logo on it.
“It’s my little lucky pillow,” he laughed. “Let your personality flow.”
“To be able to sit here on this stage and to play in this game, it means the world,” Smith said on Monday, as he reflected on his path to the pinnacle of football. “It’s huge.”