The ball was teed up on the 40-yard line, and Trey Smack took a determined 10-yard run up to it before booting it down the field. It screamed off the turf of the rural Tennessee high school, arcing across the hot July morning sky and clanging loudly into the metal scoreboard perched above the field over 70 yards away.
Everyone in the stadium sat up attentively. Watching her son from the stands, Smack’s mother, Libby, heard whispers from other parents and their boys: He’s the only kid out here who can do that.
Smack boomed two more kicks off the scoreboard as the collective gaze of hundreds of onlookers intensified. His longest kick of the morning missed the scoreboard, but it traveled an eye-popping 84 yards, a pro-level distance.
Libby then heard the real question on everyone’s minds, uttered in a tone mixing disbelief, awe and envy at the previously anonymous kid kicking the ball farther than anyone: Who the (expletive) is Trey Smack?
The answer, newly confirmed this summer, was right before their eyes: Smack is one of the nation’s top kicking and punting prospects.
That’s the consensus determination of coaches, scouts and instructors who run Kohl’s Kicking Camps, the authoritative avenue for evaluating high school kickers, punters and long snappers. Smack, a rising junior at Severna Park High School, competed at his first Kohl’s event in June, a regional camp in Philadelphia. Based on a charting process involving kickoff distance, punting distance and hang time, and field goal accuracy ranging from 30 to 56 yards, Smack graded as one of the top kickers and punters in the mid-Atlantic region. He earned entry to Kohl’s’ premier annual event in July in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the invitation-only Kohl’s National Scholarship Camp.
The Kohl’s NSC hosts the country’s top 500 to 600 high school kickers and punters, many of whom have been training in their specialty for years and all of whom are hoping to land a spot on a college football roster.
A total unknown, Smack crashed the party. Out of the approximately 550 best kickers and punters in America in all high school grade levels, the unofficial results in Tennessee placed Smack at No. 2 overall for kickoffs, tied for No. 4 overall for field goals and No. 20 for punts.
The standout performances over a six-week span have Smack, who played his first football season in the fall of 2019, at the front of the line for heavy college recruitment this fall, almost before he knew how much ability he had. Hitting the scoreboard was his opening act, sending a buzz through the camp and announcing his arrival on the national scene.
“Right as I kicked it, I honestly didn’t hear much, I was so focused,” Smack said. “But after I kicked, some kids were like, asking who I was and looking around for me. I was just like, ‘Uh, I’m right here.’ It got a lot of attention.”
Smack will be getting that attention from college programs this fall even though his foray into football came less than a year ago.
The Path To Football
An exceptional all-around athlete, Smack grew up playing soccer since age 3 and lacrosse since age 8. Soccer or lacrosse were the plans all along—As a freshman at Severna Park, Smack started at center midfield for the JV soccer team before making the varsity lacrosse team in the spring. He played elite-level club lacrosse with Crabs Lacrosse in the summers and figured to be the latest in a long line of Falcons to shine on the lacrosse field.
But the lure of football tugged at him. In the fall of 2016, then-Severna Park varsity football coach Will Bell noticed Smack at Kinder Park, throwing a football around with friends as the varsity Falcons practiced on a neighboring field. Bell thought he was looking at a big, strong freshman; really Smack was going into seventh grade.
“I was so impressed with Trey just as an athlete,” said Bell. “It was a bonus that he can kick a football the way he can, but we were looking at Trey thinking he could be a big-time wide receiver, defensive back, safety, something like that. He’s a phenomenal athlete. We just gave him the information and let him know the possibilities of what can come from football, and the opportunities that he can still pursue (club) soccer (in the spring and summer), but there’s no other time except the fall to pursue football.”
Bell let him know there was always a spot for him, and new coach Mike Wright (who was coaching Smack’s cohorts on the JV team in 2018) picked up the mantle when he replaced Bell.
“That summer between Trey’s freshman and sophomore year, he really took a big jump,” Wright said. “His friends were sending me clips of him at Kinder Park hitting 45-yard field goals and doing kickoffs of 65, 70 yards. I thought, ‘You have a specialty here. You really could do something. This is pretty unique.’ And we opened the door that way.”
Smack’s classmate, JV quarterback Aiden Milewski, joined the chorus, putting friendly pressure on him to switch over to football.
Eventually Smack came to the decision. He saw many of his friends playing football when he was on the soccer field as a freshman, and going into his sophomore year he decided to make the jump.
“It was really the summer of 2019,” Smack said, recounting the moment less than a year ago when he decided to play football for the first time. “I really didn’t like soccer that much my freshman season. I wasn’t really accurate with my shot, but I had a really powerful leg. I would just rocket it, and I just decided to try football because I can kick the ball far. I just wanted to try something new. A fresh start. It would be fun.”
He had tried kicking a football before, just for fun, out on the fields at Kinder Park as an eighth- and ninth-grader.
“The first time was eighth grade,” Smack said. “It was really different. The ball had a wobble, and I wasn’t used to it. It was just a line drive into the fence. It wasn’t good.”
With his natural athleticism and strength, Smack improved quickly. He took over kicking duties for the varsity Falcons last fall and was able to drive the ball on kickoffs and convert extra points and field goals with consistency. He excelled in the punting game, earning first-team All-County honors as a punter.
Still, Smack needed to refine his skills and harness his power. Before long, he benefitted from a uniquely local opportunity to do so.
The Expertise Of A Ravens Legend
While Trey was playing Crabs Lacrosse last summer, Libby was chatting with some of his teammates’ parents about the other sports the boys play. She mentioned Trey was thinking about leaving soccer to go kick for the football team.
The father of a teammate, seeing Smack’s athleticism on the lacrosse field, thought he would do great on the football field. So he called a family friend: former Ravens kicker Matt Stover. Stover, who made 471 field goals over a 19-year career (13 with the Baltimore Ravens) and helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl in 2001, agreed to meet Trey and share some of his knowledge on kicking. Smack, Milewski and Wright all attended the session with Stover last November, near the end of Smack’s first football season as a kicker.
Within 10 minutes of meeting, Stover had overhauled Smack’s form, unlocking his power and accuracy.
“It was awesome meeting Matt. He literally changed my whole entire form, just like that,” Smack said, snapping his fingers. “I really wasn’t driving my arm through when I was kicking. I was just kind of soccer-kicking it and leaning back, hoping the ball goes through. When I got my arm through, it just made my body so even with the goal posts, and the ball would just drive straight to the goal posts, even and perfect.”
One session could have been the extent of their time together, but Stover saw Smack’s potential. He just wanted to know if Smack had the desire.
“One of the things I require for me to continue working with a kid is to see if he’s invested,” said Stover this July. “Trey was very invested. He sent me quite a few videos asking for my opinion, and I would give him my thoughts. I helped him script his practices, how much to practice, how much is enough, what you don’t do and what you do do. He was kicking, punting and doing field goals, and you’ve really got to be careful with your leg, because you can blow it out. It’s just like a pitcher, you can’t go out there and throw too much, you’ll blow your arm out. It’s the same thing. So I gave him a practice routine, helped him understand what that took, and he’s executed it very well.”
With a practice routine in hand, Smack got help from friend and student videographer Flynn Prengaman to film his training sessions and make short highlight clips. He would send the videos to Stover, who would give him feedback in return, asking for different video angles to better critique his form.
Smack continued training all through the winter and spring while also putting in work in the weight room. He gained 20 pounds over the course of the school year and entered the summer tall and muscular at 6-foot-2-and-a-half and a flat 200 pounds.
Stover knew Smack had the physical tools and was excited to see if he could combine them with the mental discipline to perform.
“Number one, he’s big. He’s big and he’s athletic,” said Stover. “He’s athletic, which is important. A lot of people decide their son can be a kicker because he’s a soccer player. Well, that’s not always the case. Is he strong? Does he have the willingness, the desire to want the ball, the Michael Jordan type of attitude, does he want the ball or not? I’ve seen that Trey wants it. He’s proven it with his work ethic.”
Despite gaining confidence and ability over nine months of dedicated training, Smack was still an industry secret, a total unknown outside his small circle. He had to show his ability on a bigger stage.
The Kohl’s Bump
Through working with Stover and learning more about kicking, Smack learned of the importance of getting ranked through Kohl’s Kicking—the college coach’s bible when it comes to recruiting kickers, punters and long snappers. Libby got him a spot in the regional competition in Philadelphia in early June, and Trey went to the camp unburdened by expectations.
“I just went in not expecting anything of it,” Smack said of his trip to the regional camp in Philadelphia. “I just wanted to go there just to see how I do and compete with others. I really haven’t been competing with other kickers so often, so I was like, ‘You know what, just give it a try, see how I do.’ And I did pretty well.”
He did better than pretty well. He finished first in kickoffs, fifth in punting and tied for third in field goals. Altogether he performed well enough to earn an invite to the big show, the National Scholarship Camp in Tennessee in July.
Under much greater scrutiny at the high-stakes NSC, Smack impressed scouts and coaches from every level—high school, college and NFL—with his kicks, beyond just the ones that hit the scoreboard. In three sessions over the weekend, Smack converted 28 of 30 field goal attempts, including a perfect 6-for-6 from 56 yards out. His kickoff of 84 yards was the single longest kick of the weekend by anyone.
Many of the Kohl’s coaches had heard there was a wild card, a dark horse kid with crazy power and accuracy, who would be showing up in Tennessee.
“There had been rumors, you could say, going around, that there was a really talented kid that was kicking the ball a mile,” said Luke Radke, Lead Instructor at Kohl’s Kicking. “We train high-school, college and NFL all across the country, and our college-aged athletes that were there and some of our professional coaches who were there, they all came back after lunch after our charting sessions from Saturday morning and were like, ‘You’ve got to see this kid. He’s kicking the heck out of the football.’”
The two-day NSC involved a deep battery of drills and attempts and a comprehensive “charting” process that evaluates every aspect of kicking and punting. Radke said Smack excelled in every category and ascended to the top of his fields, both in the Class of 2022 and overall among Class of ’21, ’22 and ’23 high schoolers. Kohl’s’ official national rankings will be released some time in early August, but the belief is Smack will fall in the top five overall for all classes for both kickoffs and field goals and somewhere in the top 10 to 20 for punters. In the Class of 2022 nationally, Smack will likely rank No. 1 or 2 on both kickoffs and field goals, and in the top five for punting.
“His kickoffs were exceptional, he really hit well on that, I think he ended up being the second- or third-highest charter on field goals, and he was one of the top punters as well, so he had a tremendous all-around showing at the event,” Radke said. “Size-wise, ability-wise, he’s a big, tall, powerful, athletic kicker and punter who was really impressive over the course of the two days.”
What Happens Next?
The breakout showing in Tennessee will lead to a slew of colleges having interest in Smack coming to play football for them. Recruiting opens for Class of 2022 students on September 1.
“Generally speaking, if you’re one of the (Kohl’s) top guys, you’re going to be a scholarship-level kicker or punter,” said Radke. “We’re going to see how all his charts and stats compile together, but from an overall perspective, he’s very, very talented. The neat and rare thing is that, depending on what he wants to do, he could work towards field goals and be elite, or he could work towards punting and be elite, or he could work on both and be elite, so he’s very, very talented.”
That’s a decision Smack thinks he will have to make. It is rare for a player to kick and punt at the college level because the risk of overuse injury is greater.
“I think I might have to make a choice here in a little bit if I’m going to do punting or kicking, but I don’t know at this moment right now,” Smack said. “I’ll just see how I go on with both. I like both, I like them the same.”
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there also probably won’t be any live-action football for Smack to play. In theory, kickers and punters can carry on training with minimal disruption to their development despite the pandemic, perhaps more so than offensive and defensive position players who rely on full practices and games for reps. Smack said he isn’t worrying too much about how the pandemic will affect his training and is just going to maintain his current routine as long as ne needs to.
Libby, a single mom who raised Trey along with his younger brother, Tucker, 15, and younger sister, Percy, 11, has been thrilled to see her oldest son’s rapid ascent as a football specialist. She joked that she had to call Wright to ask what kind of footballs she had to get for her son prior to his initial meeting with Stover last fall.
“I didn’t even have a football,” she said. “I’m just a soccer and lacrosse mom.”
But she is most proud to see Trey’s humility guiding his success.
“Trey is very humble. He doesn’t like attention or people doting on him. He just stays focused,” she said. “Even though he’s being successful on the field, his humility is more important. You can’t be successful without humility. After he kicked that Saturday morning in Tennessee, he wasn’t walking off the field. He was shagging balls for the other kickers.”
No matter which or how many colleges come courting, Smack sees no option but to keep working hard.
“I’d love to go to college for kicking,” Smack said. “The goals right now are to keep getting better and better. I’m just going to keep punting and kicking as much as I did before and keep up with everything. I don’t see myself stopping.”
Radke, who along with his Kohl’s colleagues evaluates almost 4,000 kickers and punters every year, knows there’s a bright future ahead for Smack.
“There’s a lot of things that change over the course of time, but from his perspective, to be a junior, to have the leg strength and the ability and the power he has currently, it should be a fun 12-18 months for him to see how he develops and progresses,” he said.
Stover, who has likewise seen his share of high-school kickers and knows first-hand what it takes to be elite, said Smack has the ability and mentality to be great.
“The big thing that he’s got to do is perform well in pressure situations. You really can’t replicate that until you’re in competition, or you’re with your team. And something tells me he’s going to excel once he’s in that situation,” Stover said. “As you can see now, he’s going to these Kohl’s camps and kicking great, and a lot of that has to do with, he knows what he’s doing and he’s not kicking too much, and he’s fresh. He’s following the plan. At the end of the day, Trey’s got a good situation going and is performing well when he needs to. I’m sure he’s going to do great things.”