Nov. 15, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee coaches valued signee Sean Karl's fighting spirit on the tennis court, and now the program is rallying around the newest Vol in his greatest battle yet.
A state champion and blue-chip recruit from Brentwood, Tenn., Karl is the first signee in head coach Sam Winterbotham's 2013 class.
Karl was diagnosed in October with Ewing sarcoma, a form of bone and soft tissue cancer mainly found in adolescents and young adults. He is currently undergoing early rounds of chemotherapy to combat the disease.
"Sean has character. We know he's someone who can handle adversity and come out on top," Winterbotham said. "He has been dealt an extremely difficult situation, but he's a fighter and when he gets through this, he'll join the Tennessee program."
As a tennis player, Karl is considered as one of the top recruits in the state and the national stage.
The right hander has been ranked as high as the No. 6 prospect in the country by tennisrecruiting.net. He was ranked No. 1 nationally in the USTA Boys 16 age group. Earlier this year, he earned a USTA gold ball by winning the Boys 18s National Clay Court Championships in doubles.
At Ravenwood High School, Karl has been a star, winning the last three Tennessee Class AAA state singles titles.
Karl had started playing a series of ITF Futures tournaments in Texas last month when he began experiencing back pain. Two weeks later, doctors diagnosed the disease.
Judging by the sheer outpouring of support from the tennis community both at home and abroad, it is clear Karl is appreciated for more than just his skills with a racquet. He's earned respect as a person off the court as well. Within days, a Facebook page dedicated to Karl's fight grew to more than 1,500 followers all sending their best wishes.
Even all-time tennis great Roger Federer filmed a video recently wishing Karl a quick recovery.
"We look for a certain type of character when we recruit for our program," Winterbotham said. "When guys sign with Tennessee, they have our spirit. When they come on a visit, there's a connection. When I explain the program and what it requires, it works for them. Sean has that fighting spirit, and he is absolutely committed to be the best he can be."
Associate head coach Chris Woodruff said Karl's personality and commitment to improvement make him a quintessential college tennis player.
"I've followed Sean's career for a long time, and what's stood out to me is how he always has such a positive outlook on things when he's part of a group," Woodruff said. "He'll be a wonderful teammate. He has such great charisma, and you can trust him."
Karl had initially planned to graduate high school early and enroll at Tennessee in January as a redshirt member of the Vols' squad. Now, the newest Vol is set to arrive in August.