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Character, will power, perseverance, all words used to describe a young man, often faced with trials and tribulations. Torrey Smith, standout wide receiver for the University of Maryland has endured more in twenty-one years, than the quintessential American will ever endure in a lifetime. Mother, Monica Chante Jenkins, found herself impregnated at the naive and tender age of fifth-teen. Hardships and adversity began for the two shortly after his birth. Monica had three more children in successive years.
Once Torrey reached the age of four, he found himself forced into the role of “Man of The Household”. For Monica, mornings were reserved for nursing school, evenings for her two jobs, and nights for sleep, leaving the adolescent Torrey to care for his three younger brothers. He earned the moniker, “The Microwave King”, for his quick and easy end of day meal preparation for his siblings. Responsibilities didn’t stop in the kitchen. Torrey also did laundry, gave baths, and even performed bedtime tuck-ins.
Life prior to having kids, Monica experienced her fair share of destitution and suffering. With a mother who lacked for caring, she roamed the streets and avoided school. Eric Prisbell of the Washington Post spoke with Monica, “‘My mother didn’t care if I went to school. Duck school in a heartbeat. Suspended every other week. Steal bicycles. Take Vaseline and smack people in the face with it. Don’t leave your keys in the car. Gone! Don’t leave your bicycle not locked up. We got it! We go to the store get some spray paint. Police? Nah, you better not even think about coming up in the woods with us up there. We going to get you.’” (1), she says.
Violence was a recurring theme in their home. At six years old, Torrey’s mother married a man who had seen the insides of a prison cell, on a number of occasions. The violence that was witnessed was not your ordinary domestic abuse. It consisted of beatings with fists and weapons between the two, 9mm guns pinned against the forehead of Monica, and even an hostage situation, where Monica played the role of hostage.
Torrey spoke with Prisbell about his emotions during that time, “‘When you see domestic abuse, there is nothing you can do as a kid. You just watch, hope, wish you were bigger so there was something you could do. There was not really anything I could do but console my mother, help her get through it’” (3). Despite enduring physical, sexual, mental, and emotional abuse, at the hands of a supposed loved one, Monica could not assemble the strength to leave. Angst and fear disabled her.
In the late 1990′s, the family moved from Virginia to a rural town in Minnesota, where Monica’s husband was promised a job. The thought that provoked this venture was the assumption that the violence would subside with a change of scenery. Unbeknownst to Monica, it did not. Instead, the opposite transpired, and the violence rose up a notch. Growing weary from the treatment, Monica finally stood tall. She straightened her back, held her chin high, packed her car full of bags and children, and headed back to Virginia.
The family spent three years in Minnesota, and during that time, Torrey begun to play football. Shortly after arriving in Virginia, Torrey made it his primary focus. He excelled at quarterback, defensive back, and kick returner. In high school, his physical education instructor, Steve Swope, became his mentor. He often took him to Virginia Tech football games. Torrey’s skills on the field progressed to a point where surrounding Universities were beginning to take an interest in him. He weighed his options heavily, but ultimately decided to attend the University of Maryland. Their football program played a part in his decision, but the bigger piece of the pie was the fact that the school was in close proximity to his mother, a woman who always loved and protected him.
Monica underwent a transformation during this period of time. She achieved her Associates of Arts Computer degree, and gained employment with the Navy, making a six figure salary. The future was bright. Torrey was playing college ball, and his mother had finally gotten both feet firmly on the ground. In the course of Torrey’s Junior season, Monica found herself down again, losing some of the life she had established, and her immediate freedom. After getting into a verbal dispute with her daughter-in-law, words turned into physicality, and physicality turned into six months in jail.
She was eventually released with probation and afforded the opportunity to attend Torrey’s home games, but more importantly she was able to attend his graduation. Torrey had worked extremely hard in the classroom, in order to graduate early. Notwithstanding the transgressions of a life that placed many difficult times upon his shoulders, Torrey stood before his mother and graduated from college. He now embarks on a new journey. A journey that may help to eclipse a portion of his bleak past. However, that past won’t be fully forgotten, for it is what has made him into the person he is today — a high character, strong willed, and persevering individual.