Nov. 2, 2011
KNOXVILLE - There were times when junior linebacker Herman Lathers thought he'd never run through the `T' or suit up in a Tennessee uniform again.
Lathers, who had shoulder surgery in January, missed all of spring practice but came back for the start of summer workouts as UT's leading returning tackler. His return, however, was brief.
"It's been frustrating," Lathers said. "I said once I got my shoulder surgery that I was just going to push everybody in the off-season and then I end up breaking my (ankle) the first play of seven-on-seven, first day of off-season workouts. It's been tough. It was a lot on me. I cried a lot for a couple days, but I thank my teammates, my roommate Tauren Poole and most of all Nick Reveiz for pulling me through it.
"He's always been calling, checking on me and pulling me through it."
Reveiz, the former UT linebacker, had seen this show before. Once a walk-on, Reveiz worked his way to being named a team captain and starter as a junior in 2009. Reveiz tore his ACL in the fourth game of the season after all of his hard work, but battled back to lead the team in tackles in 2010 with 108.
Having been through a similar experience, Reveiz just tried to relate to his former protégé.
"I don't think he ever said to me, `Hey, I'm thinking about quitting,' but I could see in his eyes after surgery just how down he was," Reveiz said. "He was in so much pain. I'm sure he was thinking the same way I was thinking when I had surgery. `How am I ever going to walk again after surgery?' I'm sure there were a lot of thoughts that ran through his mind.
From one linebacker to another, it was the classic case of "Actions speak louder than words."
"Something I always tried to do was just be there for him," Reveiz said. "That was the biggest thing. I don't think it's about words. It's just about how we love people and change lives. Not that I'm some great guy, I just believe that God gave me an opportunity to serve Herman and that's what I wanted to do. I'm glad I got the opportunity to do it."
While the former Vol took advantage of his opportunity to make an impact on Lathers, the current Vols did the same.
"A lot of my teammates brought my through this tough situation, having a freak accident the way I did," Lathers said. "It was tough on me because I was ready to quit and I was just wondering why it was always me that was getting injured. They brought me through a lot and I'm thankful for them."
Although it's unclear whether Lathers will return this season, he's done his best to return the favor to his teammates.
"I keep myself updated on the plays, the installs and what they're doing just so I can help the young guys," Lathers said. "I'm always in the film room when they are, helping (those) guys and making sure they're in all the right places and that they know what they have to do."
"I tell them a lot that this off-season when I get back we're going to do a lot of drills," Lathers said. "We're going to spend a lot of time in the film and doing drills out in the complex. We just have to get better as a unit."
Much like Reveiz gave back to Lathers, the junior linebacker is also ready to embody the "Vol For Life" spirit.
A CALMER WORLEY EXPECTED
Making your first start in a college football game can be nerve-racking. Throw in being an 18-year old freshman in a pivotal SEC division game against your homestate team and you have the plight of freshman quarterback Justin Worley.
The Rock Hill, S.C., native made his first start with Tennessee last Saturday and despite the tough evening, the coaching staff has confidence in the signal caller as he continues to gain experience.
Worley will make start number two this Saturday as the Vols step out of conference to host Middle Tennessee at 7 p.m. ET.
"Certainly (he will be calmer). I feel that way about every freshman that goes out there," said offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. "The second game he's calmer, the third game he's more calm and you continue all that. You call that experience. You can't manufacture it, you have to go out and play."
Worley started slow against the Gamecocks, but gained more confidence as the game progressed as you could expect from any teenager under the spotlight at Neyland Stadium.
"I think he came out a little shaky, in the first quarter or two," Chaney said. "He calmed down by the middle of the second quarter and threw some nice balls. If you could just take four or five of his passes out and say, `look at this' I think when you do that, you see the talent that the kid has.
"I think the nervousness early on, he wasn't as accurate as he would have liked to have been. I think that showed up throughout the ball game off and on. He struggled a little bit, but he's worked harder this week. We have tidied down, try to tone down what he's having to do. You know him a little bit more. It's always the first game, with the younger quarterbacks, they think they know a lot and the nervousness hits them and they don't know as much as they thought they did."
Head coach Derek Dooley has the same mindset and knows that Worley will get better with time.
"The only way to really learn is through a lot of reps and a lot game reps," said Dooley, who has started three quarterbacks in the Vols' last four games. "Then, you find that place where you understand who he is. We're still in the learning stages. The challenge is that you want to do enough to where you have a lot of good game plan material to give your players a chance to win, but you can't do too much to where the quarterback is not thinking fast, reacting and performing the way he's capable of. That's a constant battle we struggle with as coaches. It just takes time working with the quarterbacks, evaluating them and each week trying to do a little better job with that."
Chaney said the Vols didn't make major play-call adjustments for Worley being a rookie, but that two continued to build trust, which is key for success.
"I don't know that you call the game any differently," Chaney said. "You set up the gameplan differently, you know a little more about what he knows. I think what ends up happening, inevitably, you have a little more honest dialogue, and I would think that in the fire, when you say in honest dialogue, what you know, it's a little more honest now. ... They know now what I'm talking about, when I say, `are you sure you know all the nuances of this play. Now I feel we are a lot closer to find that out."
MIDDLE MOVES THE BALL
Entering Saturday's showdown in Knoxville, the Middle Tennessee State offense is averaging 80.7 plays, 29.9 points and 462.4 yards per game. By comparison, the Vols average 64.0, 22.4 and 329.9 in those same per-game categories.
Don't think those numbers haven't caught the eye of Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.
"They've moved the ball on everybody and scored on everybody," Wilcox said. "They get about 90 plays a game, they run a play about every 16 seconds. They don't wait for anybody. They went down in their first game of the year against Purdue and moved the ball up and down the field. They move the ball on everybody. They have good speed outside, they can beat you deep and their quarterback is a playmaker. There is plenty to worry about."
That quarterback is redshirt sophomore Logan Kilgore. In seven starts this season, the Rocklin, Calif., native has thrown for 1,869 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing almost 60 percent of his passes.
"I think he is a playmaker," Wilcox said. "He has done a lot for them. He can beat you with his feet or he can beat you with his arm. He's thrown for a lot of yards and been very productive. I think he is a good player."
For Wilcox, the key to success against a high-tempo offense like the Blue Raiders' is as much a mindset as physical preparation.
"It's a matter of mental conditioning, being able to go four, five, six, seven, eight, nine plays back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back and be on point about your alignment, assignment and execution," Wilcox said. "It's not complicated to say they are going to go fast. What's complicated and where it gets hard is when you have to do it nine plays in a row and they are going fast, their formations change and your call changes. That's the hard part. It's the mental intensity and that mental stamina. That's what they test."