By Pete Pichaske
Photos by Dunks Photo. Dunksphoto.com
Some men take to fatherhood the instant their child is born. Others have to grow into the role.
And then there’s Torrey Smith.
The Baltimore Ravens wide receiver became a first-time father last spring when his wife, Chanel, gave birth to Torrey Jeremiah “TJ” Smith.
But for Torrey, 25, having a child was in many ways irrelevant to being a father. That’s because the 25-year-old Baltimore Ravens standout has been playing the role of father to his siblings since before he was in grade school. He is the oldest son of a single mother. Torrey’s mother was 16 when he was born and six siblings followed.
“I’ve changed diapers before,” he says with a smile during an interview at the Ravens’ training facility in Randallstown, his wife sitting by his side, his son in his lap. “I’ve dealt with sick babies, dealt with crying babies. This isn’t new for me.”
Ravens fans know Torrey Smith as the team’s top receiver, a lightning-quick, sure-handed, big-play maker who scored 19 touchdowns in his first three seasons in the NFL.
But he is far more than a football player. He’s a young man whose childhood could have scarred or even traumatized him, but instead molded him into a responsible, family-oriented man who knows what he wants and is confident he will get it. He’s a young man, in short, destined to be a dad.
“Torrey is going to be a wonderful dad, because he was a wonderful child,” says his mother, Monica Jenkins, from her home in Stafford, Va., where Torrey grew up. “His child is going to grow up to be humble and disciplined, just like Torrey.
“Torrey’s had his life planned out,” she adds. “A lot of young people do that, but Torrey has followed that plan. He wanted to make sure he had money and make sure he was married before he had a child. And he’s done that.”
Ravens’ wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, himself a father of four, is no less effusive.
“I think he’ll be an unbelievable father,” Engram says. “It’s very evident that family is very important to Torrey. And when you become a father and have your own kids, it just reinforces that belief. He also is a man of faith, and he has a very calm personality that I think will be great with kids.”
As for Torrey himself, he is relishing a role he has trained for and looked forward to for most of his life.
“I always wanted to have kids,” says Torrey, who now lives in Westminster. “But the way I was raised, with my father not there, my parents not married, I always wanted to do it the right way. To get married, have my son and be the best parent I can be.”
Torrey was a premature baby who spent the first 10 weeks of his life in the hospital. He didn’t know who his father was until he was 6 years old.
By the time he was 5, Torrey had three younger siblings. His mother was still unmarried, worked full time and also attended community college. That meant Torrey was often in charge at home. He not only changed diapers and dealt with sick children, he often bathed, fed and put his younger siblings to bed at night — and then got them up in the morning and fed them.
There was more. A stepfather who abused his mother. Three years spent in rural Minnesota before returning to Virginia. Trouble with the law for his mother that landed her in jail.
Through it all, Torrey Smith thrived. He grew into a superb athlete, playing basketball, baseball and football. At Stafford High School, he focused on football and was practically a one-man team, playing quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner.
Torrey attended the University of Maryland on a football scholarship. He developed into a star wide receiver and kickoff returner who, in 2010, his last year at the school, was named to the All-ACC first team.
He gave up his last year of college eligibility to enter the NFL draft and support his family and, in 2011, the Ravens drafted him in the second round. His first season, he led the team with seven receiving touchdowns — a record for a Ravens rookie.
Off the field, meanwhile, Torrey pursued his family plan with the same diligence and hard work that led to success on the football field. He became the first person in his family to graduate from college, earning a degree in criminology and criminal justice despite his abbreviated stay at Maryland. He wanted to make sure that if pro football did not work out, he’d still be able to get a job and support a family.
Also at Maryland, Torrey began dating Chanel Williams, from Conshohocken, Pa. Like Torrey, Chanel was an elite athlete, running track at UM. (“When we started dating,” she recalls with a laugh, ” he said, ‘You know, we can have a really fast kid.’ “) They continued dating after graduation, when Torrey joined the Ravens and Chanel started teaching at Dogwood Elementary School in Baltimore County. In July of last year, they got married.
As a couple, Torrey and Chanel, who is one of five children, have treated their families to the type of vacations Torrey never had as a child. They’ve been to Disney World several times, taking his siblings, her siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews.
“I never went on a family vacation with my mother,” Torrey says. “She couldn’t afford it. So to see the smiles on my siblings’ faces (during the vacations), the fact that I was able to experience that — it’s something I’ve always wanted to make sure would happen.”
On the ball dad
Torrey officially became a father April 4, 2014 with the birth of TJ, and he says it’s been all he’d hoped it would be.
“It’s been great,” says Torrey. “It’s everything that I thought it would be. … I already knew how challenging it is to raise a child, even though I’d never had my own. I completely understood what I was getting myself into, what we were getting into, and I’ve loved every minute.”
Well, not every minute. Changing diapers is a chore he’d rather avoid — especially after a tough day on the football field. But according to Chanel, Torrey’s been as good as his word when it comes to being a dad.
“He’s very involved,” she says. “We always had those talks before TJ was born. He always said, ‘I don’t want to be that dad that doesn’t help out.’ And he’s lived up to it so far. Some nights he’s too tired. But for the most part, he does his part, for sure.”
Despite the added demands, Torrey believes becoming a father will help his football career.
“I’ve always been very driven, very motivated to succeed for myself, as an individual,” he said. “I’ve always said I’m trying to take care of my kids, even though they’re not here yet. Now that TJ’s here, it’s a confirmation of why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
Says Chanel: “He was always talking about doing it (succeeding at football) for his future child. Even before TJ was born, he was talking about building a college fund. He was counting down the days. … It’s kind of a big deal for him.”
“I know what it’s like to struggle,” Torrey says. “I was the oldest one, so I learned to put others before me. … I learned about teamwork, unselfishness, loving and caring for others.
“I want my child to learn the same lessons I learned. I just don’t want him to experience the same things I did.”