Sept. 15, 2009
BY JOSH PATE
Daniel Lincoln is just waiting on the text messages from his friends down in Gainesville. And his high school teachers. And their kids. And his family. And his fishing buddies.
Lincoln is from Ocala, Fla., about a 25-minute drive from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. So when the annual Southeastern Conference opener between Tennessee and Florida rolls around, he always knows he'll hear it from his folks back home. And lately, they've been able to do all the talking. The Gators have won four in a row against the Vols.
In the past, Lincoln would have been just fine with that; he grew up a Gators fan. But coming north to Knoxville has changed things.
First Down: My old Florida home ...
Lincoln will have a lot of friends and family in the stands that will be supporting him. It doesn't necessarily mean they will be cheering for the Vols.
"Everybody down there is either a Florida or a Florida State fan," Lincoln said. "In recent years, Miami started creeping up, but it was kind of taboo to be a Miami fan. All my high school teachers are either Florida graduates or their kids go there. All my high school friends go to the University of Florida or they're Gator fans."
That's part of the reason Lincoln has avoided handing out his e-mail address to just anybody. E-mail is a dinosaur now anyway, right?
"Facebook, text messages - Florida week is definitely the 70-80 text message week on Saturday before the game and after the game," he said with a smile. "I'm excited though. Since my first game here, there's been a lot of hype coming to a rival school. So it means a lot to the people who have supported me to be able to come back there and them sitting in the stands and actually watch me play, the fact that I didn't go someplace else. A lot of guys go to Michigan State or even South Carolina - places that people there don't really follow. But Tennessee is definitely a high-profile program in their eyes."
Second Down: Legally speaking ...
Gator fans will have to deal with Lincoln in a UT uniform one more season. He's listed as a junior in terms of eligibility, but in the classroom he is about to move on to bigger and better things.
"Academically, I'm finishing up my undergrad in enterprise management and international business," Lincoln said. "I'm done with that in December and will start grad school in the public administration juris doctorate program. Hopefully I'll end up going to law school."
That, however, doesn't change his hopes regarding his right foot.
"I definitely want to play football for a long time if the opportunity is there," he added.
Third Down: Mind over foot ...
The mentality of a kicker is like that of a pinch hitter in baseball: always ready, always willing, with a requirement to always be on his game. There can never been an off night.
Training himself to be mentally prepared to walk onto the football field wasn't easy for Lincoln. In high school he kicked and also played linebacker and safety, so he was able to have a better flow of how the game pace was going on the field. College has been different.
"It's something that I've learned to do," Lincoln said of being prepared whenever the coaches call his number. "I haven't always just kicked, so when I first started college it was an adjustment because I had always been out on the field. I definitely look forward to having the opportunity to get out there. It's kind of like gambling - you don't know how many times a game you're going to be out there or if you're going to be out there."
Fourth Down: A series staple ...
Although recently it has been somewhat one-sided, the Tennessee-Florida series has traditionally been a kicker's dream - at least if the kicker wants to live and die in the pressure cooker. Two of Tennessee's most thrilling victories against Florida came due to a winning kick.
The 1998 game was won in overtime when Jeff Hall hit a field goal for Tennessee and Florida's Collins Cooper missed on the Gators' possession. The victory ultimately helped the Vols to the national championship. In 2004, James Wilhoit missed an extra point that would have tied the game. Tennessee eventually got the ball back and Wilhoit redeemed his miss with a 50-yard field goal for a 30-28 victory.
Lincoln knows that special teams history verbatim. He was watching the whole time.
"One of the reasons I came here was because the kicking game plays such a big part in Tennessee's tradition and the rivalry between Florida and Tennessee," Lincoln said. "Tennessee won with a field goal from James Wilhoit a few years back. Tennessee has a tradition and history of playing with a great defense and special teams and having great kickers. So if it didn't have a lot of pressure and didn't put things in the spotlight, I wouldn't have chosen Tennessee."