Torrey Smith Puts Family First

Torrey Smith has always served as a father figure as the oldest of seven children. It is no surprise that he is working hard to set an example for his own kids.


Torrey Smith has enjoyed a lot of success in his seven-year NFL career. He won a Super Bowl championship with the Baltimore Ravens, but there's one title that he's the proudest of - father.

Smith embraced the notion of being a father someday at a young age. He was born in Colonial Beach, Virginia in 1989. He grew up the oldest of seven children in a household where his father, Clarence Rhodes, was not a constant presence. Smith's mother, Monica Jenkins, worked as a nurse's assistant as well as any additional jobs she could find to provide for her children.

Smith stepped up and helped around the house whenever he could. He would help get his siblings off to school. He assisted in making sure homework was completed. He even earned the nickname, "The Microwave King," from his mom for his ability to cook meals.

"That was just my role within the family. I didn't think it was anything special," Smith says. "I knew that this was how our family was built. My mom works and this is my way to help her."

Smith crafted a vision for what he wanted his family to be like growing up and fought to make it a reality. Today, he is married to his college sweetheart, Chanel, and the couple has two sons - 3-year-old Torrey Jeremiah (T.J.) and 1-year-old Kameron James.

"I wanted to make sure that I had a complete house," Smith says. "I wanted to make sure I did things the quote-unquote right way. I wanted to make sure I was married first because I want my kids to know what love is because, for me, I was always weird when it came to that."

Smith's childhood wasn't the easiest. But he uses stories of his past as examples for his sons so they learn to cherish what they have in their lives. And Smith also wants other children who are in similar situations to the one he once found himself to know there is a way out. That is why he founded the Torrey Smith Family Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, during the 2011 lockout shortly after being drafted by the Ravens.

"A lot of these kids don't understand that they can't control their environment. They can't control their parents. They can't control decisions they make. They can't control anything that's going on in their household, which is where a majority of our stress comes from. But they can control their effort, their attitude, and chasing their education," Smith says. "That was my plan, so I try to share that with them and I try to understand the different types of trauma because that's what it is."

For new dads and future dads, the blueprint the NFL wide receiver crafted for himself can be summarized by these six principles, a fitting number for someone who has scored 41 career touchdowns, including playoffs.

1. Don't Underestimate The Value Of A Good Education

Smith's mother continued to go to school after starting her family and instilled in her children a belief that learning offers a path to a better life.

Smith found out just how serious his mother was about his education when he was a freshman at Stafford High School in Falmouth, Virginia. Smith was the starting varsity point guard on the basketball team, but Jenkins pulled him off the squad after he got a C on a midterm exam. Smith to this day can't recall the class, but coaches had to explain to his mother that it just a test and not a final grade. After a couple of days, he was back on the hardwood.

"I knew I needed to further my education to make sure I wasn't in the same situation, to make sure when I had kids and a wife and a family that they weren’t in the same situation," Smith says.

Football provided Smith with a free education at the University of Maryland. Smith earned his bachelor's degree in criminology and criminal justice in three and a half years. He calls being the first member of his family to earn his degree his "biggest accomplishment."

2. Treat Women With Respect

When Smith was 6 years old, his mother brought a man into the picture who would become his stepdad. Today, this man is serving time for murder. When he was with his mother, he was brutal to her.

"I knew he was a terrible dude the minute I met him. I just knew. I never liked him," Smith says. "He was distracting her. He was holding her back. Even worse than that, he was very abusive. There were plenty of times when I didn't think my mom was going to make it. I thought he was going to kill her."

Smith recalls one fight that began while he was on a car ride in the country with his brother, Travorn. Smith's mother and stepdad began to argue. The car was swerving on the road. The stepdad pulled out a gun, pointed it at Monica's head, and the gun went off. The bullet went through the roof. Jenkins pleaded to let Smith and his brother go. They ran into the woods. Smith just waited to hear another gunshot go off. Finally, things calmed down and Smith's mother went looking for the boys.

"I didn't want to come out. It didn't feel right," says Smith, who figures he was in second or third grade when this happened. "It didn't feel safe."

In an effort to protect her family, Jenkins moved them to Pipestone, Minnesota near the South Dakota border to try and start a new life. Smith understands how hard it is for people to escape domestic violence. During the two years in Minnesota, Jenkins and her family were forced to flee to a shelter in Sioux Falls, South Dakota because the stepdad had tracked them down. Eventually, Jenkins returned the family to Virginia but it would be years before she was finally able to break free of the abusive relationship.

Smith knows that if he and his wife, Chanel, have a disagreement their two sons will be watching to see how he handles it.

"I have to be the best man for them because I know they're going to be in the real world someday," he says.

3. Find A Good Teammate

Smith met his wife while the two were at the University of Maryland. Chanel hails from Conshohocken, Pennsylvania and was a track star at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, about 20 miles from Lincoln Financial Field, and attended Maryland on an athletic scholarship of her own.

The two quickly became close friends after meeting at a party. Smith isn't one to divulge his feelings at ease. He had built up walls from the struggles of his childhood. But she chipped away at them and he eventually opened up without realizing it.

That was important because the turmoil of his childhood had not eased once he was in college. His mother, in fact, was incarcerated while Smith was at Maryland for her involvement in a fight. It was not her first time in prison. She was previously jailed for shooting the abusive stepdad in the leg, roughly a year or so after the car incident, but was pardoned by Virginia Governor Mark Warner. Smith's grandmother, Mary, took care of the siblings until Jenkins was released. Still, the stress of the family turmoil weighed heavily on Smith while he was at Maryland. He wanted to come home to help his brothers and sisters but knew that this opportunity was one he could not afford to waste.

"Nothing ever bothered him from the outside. He didn't talk about his mom much," his wife says today of those days. "He didn't talk about his dad much. He was pretty happy all of the time. I wouldn't have known otherwise that something deeper was going on unless we talked like we did."

Today, Chanel Smith continues to help bring out the best in Torrey especially when it comes to the Torrey Smith Family Fund.

"I make him do more than he should because we live it, we breathe it. Every time I wake up it's an idea or what can we do? That's all we talk about," she says. "We knew right away that we wanted to be that support for other kids. It's another reason why we connected. We both have that passion."

Chanel Smith taught elementary school in Baltimore while he played with the Ravens and became a stay-at-home mom when T.J., the oldest of two boys, was born. But Torrey Smith is right there to relieve her as soon as he comes home after a long day of practice and meetings at the NovaCare Complex.

"He's awesome. Sometimes I feel like I give him too much responsibility because he works so hard and when he comes home I give him the kids right away," she says. "He really understands that being a stay-at-home mom is just as hard, if not harder. He realizes when he has the babies for a couple of hours how ridiculously hard it is. He's super understanding."

4. Give Back To Others

Smith was instantly drawn to Baltimore after being drafted by the Ravens. He saw how beautiful the Inner Harbor was, but the outskirts of the city were rundown. He visited elementary schools that didn't have air conditioning, something most people take for granted. He saw himself in the children of the city.

"I feel like as an adult, if you wouldn't want to go in this situation, how can you expect them to be successful?" he says.

The Torrey Smith Family Fund just held its sixth annual Celebrity All-Star Game back in March. He hosts a backpack event prior to the start of each school year, and a holiday toy drive that benefits youth from numerous organizations. Smith's brother, Tevin, passed away in a motorcycle accident and the Family Fund offers four college scholarships in his name so other students can pursue their dreams. Beyond helping his own children grow, thousands of youth have been impacted by Smith's work in the community.

Smith has been nominated for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award three times, which is one of the most prestigious honors in the league.

"I realized that if you help the kids, you help everyone. We kind of shifted our focus strictly to kids helping them find the resources and tools they need to further their education," Smith says.

"It's personal because it's driven by us. We lead the charge. We put our money in to help support it as much as we can. The people who help support us, they feel like they're a part of it which is how it should be. It takes a village to raise a child and we are the village."

Smith signed a three-year deal with the Eagles in March and immediately rooted himself in the community by visiting schools. He saw much of the same things he witnessed when he first arrived in Baltimore. Smith brought T.J. to an event this past Thursday where the team donated new cleats and gloves to the student-athletes at John Bartram High School. The number one goal for Smith when it comes to raising his children is making sure they stay grounded and humble.

"Over the years, they'll realize that they're in a different neighborhood. This doesn't look like where I live, but these kids are having fun just like I am," Smith says of taking his children to outreach events.

"I want them to understand that people are just like you. We're all the same. Not everyone is where you are so it's important for you to help elevate others. Appreciate what you do have. Be grateful. I want them to share in my experiences, but not go through them because it's possible to learn from them."

Smith's wife marvels at how selfless her husband is with others.

"He's just super loving. He cares about everybody. He's always thinking about who he can help and how he can help. It doesn't end. He never expects anything back," she says.

5. Be Willing To Forgive

Smith's biological father served in the military, embarking on overseas tours to Iraq, Kuwait, and South Korea while he was growing up. He may not have been involved in Torrey's youth, but he's a constant presence as a grandfather.

Chanel Smith, who doesn't have a close relationship with her father, helped build the bridge that would eventually bring Torrey and Rhodes together. She saw a willingness in Rhodes to become more involved and figured it was better late than never for the two to become close.

"Because of the dynamic of my family, I've always known him as a great guy, but he didn't know how to be a good father if that makes sense. It wasn't until my son (T.J.) was born that we really got closer," he says.

"When my son came, I saw how involved he wanted to be and I thought maybe he could be a great grandfather. That's what he's done. He's been an awesome grandfather."

6. Be Thankful For What You Have

T.J.'s birth was so smooth that there was no apprehension about trying for a second child. Smith was wrapping up his first season with the San Francisco 49ers in 2015 and getting ready to head back to Baltimore for the offseason when his wife received a devastating call from their doctor.

There was a 1/300 chance that the baby could have Trisomy 18, a genetic disorder. Typically, the child dies in the womb or shortly after birth. Smith recalls his wife in tears. He kept a level head, thinking that the odds were still long that his child would be born with this disorder.

In the weeks ahead, though, trips to specialists in Baltimore and additional testing didn't provide better news. At one point, there was a 1/6 possibility that this disorder would be a factor. This is the point when Smith finally broke down.

"It was an important time because it made me question my faith," says Smith. "It was the first time I believed that he had this disorder. I didn't know if I was questioning faith or if I was scared. I prepared myself for the worst."

The pregnancy was also impacting Chanel's health. At last, doctors finally concluded that the baby did not have Trisomy 18. A healthy baby boy was born. Kameron just celebrated his first birthday earlier this month. He was born with skin tags on both hands that looked like extra fingers, as well as an extra toe on one foot which was removed. But today, Kameron is healthy.

"I had no faith that he would be alright. Now to see him here a year old, moving around, whenever I look at him it reminds me of my weakest moment," Smith says.

On this Father's Day weekend, Smith's advice to men who are new to the position is simple.

"Just support and cherish it. Don't take it for granted," he says. "There are a lot of people who would give anything to have a biological baby. That experience with your wife, just life in general, that's a part of you. It's nothing that you can take for granted."

Photos by Kiel Leggere

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Philadelphia Eagles

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