Nov. 26, 2010
By ZACH STIPE
UT Media Relations
It comes as no surprise that the first time Tennessee sophomore defensive back Prentiss Waggner played football he made an interception.
"I started playing football at the age of 5 or 6," Waggner said. "We had a community league in Clinton, La. My neighbors started it up in elementary schools. My first day out there I caught an interception, but then I got hit in the stomach and I quit. My mama made me come back out."
Tennessee likely owes "mama" a thank you, as Waggner continues to show that same knack for snagging interceptions for the Orange and White that he flashed as a kid in his first steps on the gridiron.
When Waggner picked off a Jeremiah Masoli pass and returned it for a touchdown during the Vols' 52-14 win against Ole Miss on Nov. 13, he notched his third pick-six of the year and set a Tennessee single season record. Waggner's three interceptions returned for touchdowns currently paces the nation.
Tennessee defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator Terry Joseph isn't surprised by Waggner's success. As an assistant coach at LSU in 2006 and Louisiana Tech in 2007, he recruited Waggner out of tiny Clinton High School.
"He was a great high school corner," Joseph said. "I think he had 16 picks as a high school junior. He has the ball skills and the instincts. You would figure if a guy has that many picks that the other team wouldn't throw his way. Obviously, some teams haven't learned their lesson. The guy has big-time ability."
LEADS YOUNG SECONDARY
In his third year on Rocky Top, Waggner has emerged as the leader of Tennessee's young secondary that also features sophomores Janzen Jackson and Marsalis Teague, redshirt freshman Eric Gordon and freshman Brent Brewer.
"Prentiss has been pretty consistent back there," Joseph said. "You can see he's gotten a lot better since the spring. The way he's played this year has really helped us out because our depth is so short."
Tennessee's depth in the defensive backfield has been so thin that Waggner moved to cornerback after starting the season at safety. And he hasn't skipped a beat.
"I just needed to get that technique down and get those quality reps down in practice," Waggner said. "Once I got those quality reps I was ready to go. I think I've been getting better every game. I'm just out there, playing football and having fun. Hopefully we finish the season out strong."
BIG WELCOME AT LSU
Waggner gains motivation from his hometown of Clinton. It's a town of about 2,000 people 40 miles north of Baton Rouge. He remains close to his entire high school class of 64 students.
"What makes me want to go out and play hard is my town back home," he said. "Coming out of Clinton, La., not too many people have been recruited highly out of there in the last few years, but I was one of those guys to fortunately get that break."
The Clinton faithful came out in droves to cheer on Waggner when the Vols played at LSU in October. He got 54 tickets for the game for friends and family.
Despite the heartbreaking 16-14 loss for the Vols to the Tigers, Waggner had one of his best games in front of his hometown supporters, tallying a career-best eight tackles.
"I play for my town every time I step out there on the field because I know the town has my back," Waggner said. "I try to be a good representative for Clinton."