Jan. 16, 2012
This is the seventh in a 10-part series looking at each member of the Vols' 2012 roster leading up to the start of the season Jan. 20 with a home double header against Memphis and Eastern Kentucky beginning at 1 p.m. All 10 feature stories will be part of the 2012 media guide.
BY JOHN PAINTER
Colton Norton's hometown of Jackson may not be a registered tennis hotbed, but the West Tennessee community has produced its share of talent.
Norton is following in the recent UT footsteps of Bo Hardegree, who also arrived in Knoxville from Jackson and played four years of football for the Vols as a reserve quarterback. But Hardegree's best athletics success was in tennis when he joined the UT program his senior year of 2007 and became a doubles specialist during head coach Sam Winterbotham's first season.
"We've had some good tennis players here," Norton said. "Given the size of Jackson, we've got a decently competitive tennis program going. It's not the size of Memphis, Nashville or Knoxville, but we can produce some good players every now and then like Bo Hardegree a few years back."
"What he did playing football and then to turn back to tennis his last year and getting into the lineup is pretty amazing."
Norton also is working on cracking the 2012 Tennessee starting six. UT's roster is littered with new faces after the Vols won their second straight SEC championship last year and reached the NCAA quarterfinals in Palo Alto, Calif.
But Norton says the team's chemistry remains a strength and he fits in well with both the squad's newcomers and returning veterans alike.
"My relationships were great from the start and they've only gotten better as time as gone on, really," Norton said. "Of course, we lost five guys from last year so pretty much half of our team is new this year. But I've gotten close with the news guys so my relationship with my teammates is really good."
The right-hander has appeared in 21 singles matches during his first 1½ UT seasons, winning six. He also is 3-2 in doubles after splitting a pair this fall alongside freshman Peter Nagovnak. Norton takes pride in his ability to relate to coaching and used the most recent offseason to improve his game under the tutelage of Winterbotham and assistant coach Chris Woodruff.
"I don't really have the most aggressive game style so I've just been trying to listen to what the coaches say and make my game a little bigger," Norton said. "They said and I agree that I want to get a little more power behind my stroke. I want to be more aggressive and finish points a little quicker when possible."
Norton says it's easy to find the best part of his game.
"My ability to stay in the point," he said. "I'm not a big aggressive player, but I have the ability to hang in there, return a lot of balls and make my opponent play another shot."
Norton made the transition from University School of Jackson to the University of Tennessee look easy, but the sophomore knows it wouldn't have been possible without the tremendous cooperation and encouragement the Vols receive both on and off the court.
"The amount of support get from the athletics staff is really amazing," he said. "Obviously we have the coaches, but there's also the athletic training staff, media relations, Adidas and all the supporting things we get that makes it fun."
Meanwhile, Norton also is progressing in his major and keeping his goals in sight.
"I want to go to medical school when I'm done - that's always been the plan," he said. "Right now it's going pretty well. I'm doing well with my grades. Also I'm minoring in Spanish, which is what I always wanted to do. We had a really good foreign language program at my high school, so I've got a pretty good background with that."
Once again, the Jackson experience serves Norton well.