Nov. 10, 2012
Senior Ben Bartholomew has had a career year in his final go around on Rocky Top
By Betsy Devine
The Tennessee football team has embarked on a second season in November, one that started out on the right foot with 55-48 victory over Troy last Saturday.
The Vols have much to play for. With another couple victories, Tennessee could return to the bowl scene, and extend its season one more game, something that the 13 seniors on the team are looking forward to.
And giving their all for Tennessee as their time on Rocky Top nears its end.
"It has definitely entered my mind," wide receiver Zach Rogers said. "I have three games left here, possibly four, with the bowl game. It is dwindling down here and I realize that, so I am just trying to give it all that I've got. It is my last time around here. You can't leave anything behind and I'm just giving it all out on the field every Saturday."
Rogers, who entered his senior year with 31 catches for 415 yards and two touchdowns during his first three seasons in Knoxville, is having a career season already hauling in 25 catches for 417 yards and five TDs.
The Nashville, Tenn. native even left his mark in the Tennessee record books with a career-best 107 yard, three-touchdown performance at South Carolina. He became the ninth Vol to achieve the tri-touchdown feat.
His reason for his success? Simply put, hard work.
"We come out here after workouts every day, throw routes and get comfortable with our quarterbacks," said Rogers. "Again, it is watching film, watching guys like Wes Welker, work the slot, work behind defenses, and find the soft spot in coverages. I am just trying to learn as much as I can from the guys who have come before me."
Another Vol who had a career day against South Carolina was redshirt senior Herman Lathers, a vocal leader and the heart of the Tennessee defense.
Lathers set a new career best with his 15 tackles against South Carolina, tallying his sixth career contest with double-digit stops.
The senior also recorded his second sack of the season, dropping Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw for a 12-yard loss in the fourth quarter. Lathers finished with 2 TFLs and the sack on the day.
All season, and for the majority of his career, Lathers has led by example and he has rallied his senior compatriots to do the same in their final go around.
"We're just trying to be consistent all year as far as the seniors go," said Lathers, "but we know we have a bowl game to play for and that's what we're trying to do. We're just trying to motivate this team. Our main job is to encourage those guys and get them to eliminate the big plays and eliminate the busting and you'll be right where you want to be."
Sophomore offensive lineman Antonio `Tiny' Richardson has played some of his best football heading into the homestretch of the 2012 season. He, like the other underclassmen, are playing their part to keep the season going for their senior brethren.
"I think that everybody has a really good mental approach right now," Richardson said. "We know what we have to do. It is week-by-week and just coming in here with the leadership with guys like Herman, me and all these other guys on defense and offense, guys like Dallas [Thomas] just saying `we do what we have to do, just hone in and win these four games in November.'"
Dallas Thomas, who came to Tennessee alongside Lathers from Scotlandville High School in Baton Rouge, La., has played alongside Richardson on the left side of the offensive line for each and every game of the 2012 season.
The Vols offensive line, led by Thomas, has been the MVP of the team this season.
The line has allowed just four sacks through the first nine games of the season, which ranks first in the SEC and second in the nation.
Thomas and Richardson have teamed up to protect the blindside of quarterback Tyler Bray who has had time to get off 334 pass attempts, connecting on 200 of them, for 2,812 yards of offense, including a school record 530 last time out against Troy.
Ben Bartholomew is another senior that has had a career season, on a slightly more quiet scale.
Taking snaps at both fullback and tight end this year, Bartholomew is known for setting blocks to free the tailbacks and wide receivers up to make big plays.
This year, Bartholomew has gotten in on the action himself.
He has reeled in a single-season best eight catches for 74 yards and his first career touchdown.
"I think all the seniors are stepping up as leadership roles," said Bartholomew, "and we're telling the guys it's our last year, and if you're going to play for anything, play for us. You don't get this opportunity many times. It's a real honor and a privilege to be out there on the field, and we just have to play our heart out every time."
And play their hearts out they have. The Vols bonded as a single unit during the offseason and play each game for each other, giving their all for Tennessee every day.
They have the seniors to thank for that.
"It's a different mindset that we approached in the offseason: hold each other accountable, team bonding experiences, us being around each other and being together," said Lathers. "We didn't want what happened last year, to happen this year. We are big on leadership this year and leading by example, pulling each other together."