By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Tre’quan Smith wasn’t even paying attention to the draft when his mentor’s phone rang.
The Delray Beach native was upstairs hanging with family at mentor Mark Sauer’s house when Sauer rushed the phone over to Smith and silenced the room.
It was the New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton informing Smith he was going to be their next pick.
Smith was selected as draft pick No. 91 during round three of the 2018 NFL draft. The wide receiver graduated from University of Central Florida early in pursuit of fulfilling his dream of playing on Sundays in front of a national audience.
“I didn’t know who was going to call me that night,” he said. “I said, ‘Thank you coach, you changed my life and I am glad to be a part of the organization.’”
Smith, 22, grew up in Delray Beach. He first touched a football in ninth grade where he played for Village Academy.
At the time, he dreamed of the basketball court, not the football field. His mom made him pick which sport to pursue because he was spending too much time with friends and sports.
He left football in the rearview until his junior year when his former teammate and Village quarterback asked him to play.
“I always wanted to be out there,” he said. “I always wanted to play.”
So, he made the team and had a “monster year” and was named an All County receiver.
“I fell in love with the game,” he said. “It was exciting. Everything was going right.”
Road to recruitment
When it seemed like sports was going to be his ticket out of from a poor family, he knew he needed to perform as well in the classroom as he did on the field.
Delray Students First, a nonprofit that helps college-bound students with exam preparation, recently formed. Smith took advantage of the SAT and ACT tutoring offered by Faye Pelosi.
“I am so grateful they started that,” he said of Delray Students First. “Without it I probably wouldn’t have passed.”
Sauer, who has known Smith since he was in the sixth grade, founded Delray Students First. He currently serves as its chairman.
Sauer mentored Smith’s older brother and then took Smith under his wing as well.
The boys’ father died when Smith was 12 and soon Sauer became their father figure.
“We’ve been attached to each other,” Smith said of his relationship with Sauer. “I’m grateful to have met someone like him, who was willing to take me in. It’s my second home.”
With his grades and football skills high enough to be recruited, he said the pressure of selecting a school to play for began to mount.
“It’s challenging,” he said of the college recruiting process. “You’re a kid and you don’t know where you want to spend the next four years. It’s stressful.”
But he found a fit with the University of Central Florida.
Playing college ball
Smith started his first year at UCF as a redshirt freshman, a place he didn’t think he would be.
Placed on the scout team, his coach told him to prepare hard for the next year. He did and was named Scout Team Player of the Year for Offense.
While everything was going right for him, it wasn’t translating for the rest of the team. UCF went 0-12.
“We had a terrible season,” he said. “Nothing was clicking for the guys. We started to get down on ourselves.”
Even though the team struggled to come out with a win, Smith was making a name for himself as a playmaker. His hard work paid off and he was a starter for his sophomore year.
Then, a new coach came in, Scott Frost, who Smith credits with giving UCF the spark it needed to come out of a defeated season. Frost took them from defeated to undefeated in two seasons.
“He changed the program around,” Smith said of his new coach. “The team came together. We had swagger. We won a couple of games and went to a bowl game.”
Then, the team decided they would continue to improve and impress. They went undefeated in 2017. Smith had over 1,000 yards and a baker’s dozen of touchdowns.
Smith then played in the Senior Bowl and attended the NFL Combine.
Off the field, Smith spent Thursdays at $1 bowl nights and Tuesdays at the theater catching $5 movies, specifically action films.
He graduated in December with a degree in interdisciplinary studies. He plans to become a high school teacher and coach in the future.
“The reason I went to school is for a degree,” he said.
Marching down to the Saints
Smith wasn’t nervous when he wasn’t drafted in the first round. But when the weekend rolled around, he said he tried to relax as the picks rolled in.
When the phone rang, he said he spoke to the coach and general manager who both said they liked the type of player Smith is.
Smith spent the past several weeks preparing to move to a city he visited only once when UCF played Tulane. He said he isn’t afraid of moving and can’t wait to eat all the seafood.
He reported to training camp on May 12.
He spent his last few weeks at home getting “football ready.” That meant working out twice a day and preparing for the next step in his football career.
“I am a freshman in high school all over again,” he said. “I’m competing for a spot on the team. I have to go out there and earn it.”
He said he plans on taking advice from veteran players and is excited to take a pass from Drew Brees.
“I hope he can be my mentor,” he said of the quarterback. “He is a great guy and player, a future hall of famer. It will be an honor to meet him.”