Torrey Smith was born almost three months prematurely. He was 5 pounds, 6 ounces. His lungs were dangerously small.
Those first 10 weeks of life spent in a hospital only foreshadowed the difficult life ahead of him.
When he was 4, Smith routinely had to dress and feed his three younger siblings. His mom, Monica, was in nursing school and working two jobs and needed to sleep. By the time “The Microwave King” was 7, he was changing diapers, doing the laundry and making sure the others were bathed and in bed on time.
“I was the oldest of seven and that had its ups and downs,” the Maryland wide receiver said at the Scouting Combine. “I was always with my family. There were times when other kids would be going out and having fun, I’d have responsibilities. That’s not anything I would take back. I feel like it made me who I am. I definitely feel like I’m mature and I’m ready to handle what the next level brings.”
Violence surrounded him. Monica was physically, emotionally and sexually abused by her husband. One day, Torrey watched from the back seat as the husband held a gun to Monica’s head. He pulled the trigger, sparing her by firing the bullet through the roof of the car.
Sports helped save him, and on April 28, the electric wide receiver very well could a first-round draft choice. And Monica, free of her abusive husband and having turned her life around, will be one very proud mother.
“It still gives me goose bumps to even think about it,” Smith, said Smith. “I’ve watched the draft. To have an opportunity to have my name called by a team, I’m just embracing it.”
All draft prospects come under scrutiny but that’s especially true for the first-round talents. Most teams are deathly afraid of throw away millions of dollars on a player with character flaws.
There are no such worries with Smith. His college coach, Ralph Friedgen, has called Smith “perfect.” Smith said he’s never had a drink of alcohol. He earned his degree in December. He calls himself a “psychic” when it comes to judging a person’s character, and he embraces being a role model.
“For every one of me, there are a million other people in my situation,” Smith said. “Like with my mom, there’s a million of her, a million other women making mistakes, being in relationships they probably shouldn’t be in, and there’s a kid that has to help his family — make a decision whether to be positive or turn his back and go the wrong way. When you’re an athlete, it gets more attention, but it gets more attention ... there might be a kid who reads that article and goes a certain way.”
Smith is one of the draft’s most dynamic threats and would provide an instant boot to an NFL team’s receiving corps and pecial teams. As a junior in 2010, he caught 67 passes for 1,055 yards and 12 touchdowns. For his career, he averaged 24.3 yards on kickoff returns with three touchdowns.
“They're all saying I'm a big-play threat,” Smith said of the scouts. “I have to focus on polishing up as a receiver.”
At this point, the strength to Smith’s game is going deep. Perhaps not surprisingly given his talent, he wasn’t asked to run a wide variety of routes, and most collegiate cornerbacks were too scared of his speed to play press coverage.
But those are relatively minor issues for the coachable and humble Smith. After all he’s gone through, how hard can it be to master a comeback route?
“It’s another blessing to be here,” he said. “Obviously going through a lot growing up, I feel like it helped me a lot more than it hurt me. I’m just happy to be here and see what happens.”
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.