Creating his own path: Trelon Smith making most of his shot at Arkansas

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Friday, November 20, 2020
Arkansas running back Trelon Smith runs for an 83-yard touchdown during a game against Florida on Nov. 14, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla.
Photo by Walt Beazley, Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas running back Trelon Smith runs for an 83-yard touchdown during a game against Florida on Nov. 14, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla.

FAYETTEVILLE — There is no bigger believer in Arkansas running back Trelon Smith than his father, Troy.

A barber for more than two decades in Houston, Troy Smith routinely champions his middle son’s name to co-workers and customers at HD Tonsorium Barber Shop, which sits northwest of the city’s downtown area. As Arkansas traveled to Florida, Troy sensed a big moment was to come from Trelon.

Call it a father’s intuition, maybe even a lucky guess. But he was spot on.

“I tell the guys up here at the shop, ‘My son is going to take it to the house. One of these games, my son is going to bust out and he’s going to go to the house with it,’” Troy Smith said. “He loves what he does. He used to have high school stadiums sold out because he loved to run the ball.

“He will always put the team in a better position to win the ball game if they let him run the ball. I’ve seen him do it over and over again.”

On his first carry of the game against the Gators, the quick and shifty back raced 83 yards for a touchdown, his first rushing score with the Razorbacks. It was Arkansas’ longest play from scrimmage this season and the longest touchdown run by a Razorback against an SEC opponent since Joe Adams’ 92-yard touchdown in 2011 against Auburn.

Smith rushed for a career-high 118 yards, drawing postgame praise from quarterback Feleipe Franks and Barry Odom, who served as Arkansas’ interim head coach while Sam Pittman was in quarantine.

As he watched, Troy was ecstatic and emotional all at once.

“When I saw him bust that 83-yarder, I told everybody in the house, ‘Y’all don’t even know what just happened,’” he said. “He is going to change his life forever. One play can change your life forever. And I feel like he’s going to have a great thing going (at Arkansas).”

He is certainly off to a strong start.

Against a rigorous SEC-only schedule, Smith leads the Razorbacks in rushing, is averaging better than five yards per touch and has provided Arkansas with much-needed pop in the running game.

His journey to Arkansas and big-play back in the SEC has not been seamless, but he has embraced various ups and downs along the way, determined to create his own path.

At 6 years old, he began playing football. Troy recalls Trelon — who at first did not like the way a helmet fit on his head — being as competitive as they come early in life. The game also kept him occupied and out of trouble.

“He really loves football,” Troy said. “That was something that he always wanted to do and always had the passion for. When he realized what he was able to do with the football, that’s when I knew he was something great. He always played two levels up, two levels above his age.

“He’s always been a hard worker and always been self-driven.”

Life threw the Smith family a number of curveballs when Trelon was young. Together, they got through the nights when the lights were cut off, the days no one ate, and more than a dozen moves to different apartment complexes.

Troy’s three sons attended at least five different elementary and middle schools, he said. Looking back now, Trelon considers himself thankful for those struggles.

“I never left, my wife never left and we stuck together, raised our family, did what we could and I made sure I stayed on (my sons) to do their work,” Troy said. “And here we are today.”

Trelon, who was quiet and kept to himself growing up, came out of his shell and came into his own after his junior year at Cypress Ridge High School. In his first year as the No. 1 varsity tailback he rushed for 1,807 yards and 17 touchdowns, and for his career he totaled 52 scores.

In one game Trelon returned back-to-back kickoffs for touchdowns, his father said.

Following a standout prep career, he landed at Arizona State, where he played in 13 games over two seasons. He entered the NCAA transfer portal after the 2018 season, and he was within two weeks of reporting to Blinn (Texas) College when he got a call that would alter his football future.

Then-Arkansas coach Chad Morris was on the other end of the line, and he offered the tailback an opportunity to join the Razorbacks. Morris was fired during Smith's redshirt season following a home loss to Western Kentucky.

Since first-year coach Sam Pittman and his staff, particularly running backs coach Jimmy Smith, have been on campus, Smith believes his game has expanded greatly.

“With them coming in, I just wanted to show them that I'm a workhorse on this team and I could get the job done,” Trelon said this week. “I’ve done a good job of showing that to them. And ever since they've come in they've just decided that they wanted to see me be the best me.

“They've helped in every aspect.”

Pittman noted after the Razorbacks’ loss at Florida that the staff wants to get the ball in his hands even more. In his mind, the back exemplifies what an Arkansas football player is made of.

“He’s tough, a hard worker and just a great kid to be around — a lot of fun to be around,” Pittman said. “I like messing with him because I can get him pumped up pretty fast. But he’s tough and he runs hard, makes the line better, makes the team better. Just very, very proud of the way he’s played, and it all centers around how important the game is to him and how much effort he gives.

“He’s the type of kid that makes us have success.”

Franks, too, loves having Smith around in the locker room. He keeps things light with a fun personality and puts a smile on teammates’ faces.

The running back’s own smile was on full display when asked about the meaning of family and his father’s impact on his life. If not for his mother, father and two brothers, he understands he may not be where he is today — producing for a program beginning to re-emerge in the conference he always wanted to play in.

“My family growing up, that's all I had, really,” Trelon said. “They’re behind me. They’re behind me 100%. When I was at my lowest, they were there for me. When I'm at my highest, they’re there for me. You know, my pops, man, he's just an amazing guy.

“(Some) people don't have their father in their life and just for me to have mine still in my life, that's truly a blessing. I love that man to death.”

Troy sends Trelon motivational notes and messages on a near-daily basis. Predictably, he is confident his son has more big games in store for Arkansas this fall. Following the Florida game, he called for two more touchdown runs before the season’s end.

“He always wanted to create his own path, his own success,” Troy said. “We’re about to have a lot more fun.”

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