No matter where he's drafted, Smith won't be slowed

Maryland receiver looked after his family as a young boy, grew up quickly

April 23, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

So much of Torrey Smith's life has been defined by his ability to stay calm in moments of chaos.

It was true when he was growing up in Colonial Beach, Va., as he helped raise his younger siblings by cooking microwave meals and changing the newborns' diapers, serving as the man of the house while his mother worked multiple jobs and went to school at night.

It was true when he arrived at the University of Maryland as a lanky wide receiver who possessed Road Runner speed and was desperate to prove himself. In a sea of defenders, he could catch a pass, or return a kickoff, and accelerate toward the end zone in a blur of red and white. He would cross the goal line looking almost serene, often having left behind a trail of bodies that had been clipping at his heels.

And it remains true even this week, as Smith counts down the final hectic days before the 2011 NFL Draft. He is at peace with whatever happens. A lot of college players say that on the eve of draft day, only to feel crushed when their first round dreams don't come true. But Smith seems to truly believe it. He'll watch the draft with his extended family in Virginia, and wherever he ends up getting picked, he'll prepare to face a new set of challenges.

"I've done everything I can do," Smith said. "I'm really not worried at this point what happens, whether I go in the first round, second round, whatever. It's out of my hands now. I'm pretty relaxed."

Helped more than hurt

To say that Smith possesses an uncommon maturity for someone his age would be a bit of an understatement. He hasn't been shy in recent months when people — including NFL general mangers — have asked him to talk about what he overcame growing up in Colonial Beach as the oldest of seven kids. His mother, Monica Jenkins, worked hard to provide for her family, juggling two jobs and night school, but an abusive and violent relationship with an ex-husband (not Smith's father), and a continuous cycle of borderline poverty, made it almost impossible for Jenkins to give Smith a normal childhood. Jenkins even spent six months in jail at one point after getting into a knife fight with a family member.

"It had its ups and downs," Smith said. "I was always with my family. There were certain times when other kids would be able to go and have fun doing something, and I had responsibility. But that's something I would not take back."

Somehow Smith endured through it all, even though there were times when it wasn't easy, even after he got to college. He confided a lot in wide receivers coach Lee Hull and Kevin Glover, the Terrapins' director of character education. There were times when he had to slip away from the team, return home to Virginia for a day or more to make sure his younger siblings were OK.

"It was a tough situation, and sometimes he would have to leave just to take care of business," said Hull. "But never once during that time did he miss a practice or a class. It takes a lot of maturity to be able to deal with that kind of stuff. There are 30- and 40-year-old men who couldn't deal with all the stuff he's been through. I don't know where he gets it from, but from a very early age he understood that he was going to have to help take care of his mom and his family."

Through it all, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound receiver became one of the most electric players in Maryland Terrapins history, catching 152 passes for 2,218 yards and 19 touchdowns during his three-year career. He set Maryland's school record for all-purpose yards (5,276 yards) and finished as the ACC's career record holder for kickoff return yardage (2,983). In his final home game, against N.C. State, Smith made a case for himself as one of the country's best receivers, catching 14 passes for 224 yards and four touchdowns.

"Everyone else was out partying, but I called him that night and he was in his room studying for a test," Hull said. "That's how you graduate in three and a half years. He's worked really hard."

At the NFL Combine, he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds and had a 41-inch vertical jump, which has several teams eying him as someone who could be a potential big-play threat in the NFL. Some mock drafts even have the Ravens snagging Smith with the 26th pick.

"He's a great kid," said Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz. "Aside from the talent, he's really a great kid. It's amazing what he's overcome [and] what he's had to deal with and grow up through. I think it says a lot about the person. As a player, we all know him; we've all seen him here. He's made a lot of big plays for Maryland. He's got explosive speed. He's a big, explosive guy who has got playmaking ability for sure."

As impressive as Smith's athletic career was, he might be most proud of the fact that he graduated in December with a degree in criminal science.

"I've obviously went through a lot to be here and it helped me a lot more than it hurt me," Smith said.

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