KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- In Ethan Wolf's first summer as a Tennessee Volunteer, the freshman from Minster, Ohio had the opportunity to meet plenty of former Vols that came through the football complex as summer workouts went on.
Preparing for his first season alongside guys getting ready for NFL training camps left an impression, particularly when the opportunity came to work alongside a fellow tight end, Jason Witten.
"I grew up watching Jason play and he came up to work out with us," Wolf said. "It was great, we got a lot of work done, picked up some tips here and there. It's really helped out coming into camp."
Head coach Butch Jones is looking for the work with the UT and NFL legend to pay off for his freshman.
"We need production from that position," Jones said. "Ethan has the combination where he can be an attached tight end or he can detached tight end on the perimeter."
Wolf even bears a slight resemblance to Witten, who came to Tennessee as a defensive end from Elizabethton, Tenn. in 2000 before flipping sides of the ball in a move that made him one of the most prolific tight ends in Tennessee history.
The record-setting Dallas Cowboys tight end made such an impact on Wolf, that he changed his number selection to 82, Witten's jersey number in Dallas.
"He inspired me as a tight end, so I thought I'd honor him by wearing the number he wears in the NFL," Wolf said. "I'm proud to wear 82."
PLAYING THE NICKEL SLOTS
Despite recent talks of Justin Coleman adjusting to his recent move to nickelback, the senior defensive back has full confidence in playing his appointed position.
"I felt comfortable as soon as they offered me the position," said Coleman. "They said, you're going to play nickel and I was like, `Alright, I can do it.' I feel like the hardest part is really reading the run pass.
"At corner, it's pretty hard out there but at nickel, you have a lot more assignments on the inside. I do have to be in the pocket more and make a lot more tackles," added Coleman.
Having made 12 starts at cornerback for the Vols as a junior, Coleman now looks forward to helping other Vol leaders apply this spring's rigorous training program and see its benefits take effect.
"When you know your defense, you play faster and you move faster," he said. "You have leaders out there like A.J. [Johnson] and Brian [Randolph] that control the defense. I feel like I'm pretty confident in myself and in helping the team. I don't make too many errors and if I do, I can correct it immediately."
With young depth behind him to support the future of the team's defense, Coleman is also excited to prime the next wave of Tennessee defensive backs and knows that this year's competition will only make each position stronger.
"Competition is always good," said Coleman. "Elliott Berry is pretty fast and he's pretty smart. And you've got Rashaan Gaulden and Malik Foreman. It brings confidence in me and to the team because as long as they're ready, they're going to be able to help us in the long run."
HARD WORK PAYS OFF FOR GILLIAM
After four years of hard work and dedication to a sport he loves, local product and senior offensive lineman Jacob Gilliam enters his final season with a scholarship in hand.
"I got a call from Coach Jones and he said `Hey, we're going to put you on scholarship," Gilliam said. "I was like `Awesome,' because I obviously didn't know what to say at first, and we had a couple more phone calls that day and ended up finalizing it when we got back in June."
Although Gilliam feels fortunate and happy about his earned scholarship, it didn't come without perseverance.
"No one tells you what its really like (as a walk-on) or you probably wouldn't do it," Gilliam said. "It's been challenging at times but I put my head down and try to go to work every day. I eventually got bigger and eventually got a chance.
"The whole (walk-on) experience you sit behind those scholarship guys. I had to reprove myself to three different offensive line coaches and two different head coaches. It's just one of those things that you just sit back there and wait for your chance and you might get one real chance your whole career and have to make the most of it."
Gilliam cites Coach Mahoney for giving him a chance to prove himself after suffering an injury.
"After coming back from that (injury), I didn't really get another chance until Coach Moe got here," he said. "He told everybody you're all equal to me, everything is going to be the same, and the best players are going to be in there. That's when I got my chance again."
Keeping a positive mind didn't come hard for Gilliam with his newfound confidence in his development to remind him of his dream to earn a starting role for Tennessee.
"I really tried to have a positive outlook," Gilliam said. "I worked four years to get a scholarship and four years to earn a starting role here. Obviously, it means a lot to me. It has been nice to see myself grow, get bigger and more talented as the years went on."
HUNGRY LIKE A WOLF
Head Coach Butch Jones has reiterated the importance of making powerful impact plays in college football.
"It is invaluable and you really find out about it when you don't have enough of them," Jones said. "So everything is, in the world of college football it is all about big plays. Making impactful plays. How can you impact the game. Whether it is a big run, whether it is a key block, whether it is turning a 5-yard reception into a 35-yard reception. It is going up and making a play on the ball when the ball is at its highest point."
"When you look at the games we won last year, you look at the South Carolina game, we made a play third-and-nine with about 3 minutes to go, when Justin (Worley) did a great job of hanging in the pocket and throwing the football up in a spot that only one person could catch it and Marquez North comes down with it. So again it is invaluable."
With a rise in recruiting, the team has added a handful of potential playmakers. So far this season, freshman Ethan Wolf has made quite the impression on Jones as a potential impact player for the Vols.
"I have been really, really pleased with Ethan Wolf," Jones said. "I think Ethan Wolf continues to get better and better and better. An individual right now, two individuals that are out on the perimeter, Vic Wharton continues to do things with the ball in his hands and then Josh Smith as well. Josh Smith looks healthy, he looks fast, he looks elusive. So I have been very pleased with those three individuals. Along with a lot of other individuals but those three really show up when you watch from start to finish with our practice."
As a tight end, there are many expectations and requirements for the position to be successful.
"We need production from that position," Jones said. "We like to play with a tight end but we would also like to get into two tight end sets as well. Each individual in this group has their own strengths but there athletic, they are tough, they need to stay in the weight room and get bigger but again, Ethan has the combination where he can be an attached tight end, he can be a detached tight end out on the perimeter. He has really improved his blocking skills, he has benefited from spring football along with Daniel Helm. So those two individuals I have been really pleased with so far."
Wolf enjoys his ability to come in and impact a team that is looking to build depth at the position.
"Coming in, I knew that there were injuries at the position," Wolf said. "I knew that I would be thrown into the process. I took as many reps as possible, but now, we have just about everyone back healthy. The reps are getting split up between us all. Coach is going to see who can perform. The best scenario would be for us all to play at the same level and be able to sub in to become a dominate force with fresh bodies coming in."
As training camp moves forward, learning to make impactful plays will be among the priorities for Wolf and his fellow teammates regardless of what position they fill.
Here are sound bites from Butch Jones and the players after Saturday's practice.
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
»(On the phrase `taking a bite out of the elephant')
"Well, you are going through a long training camp and it is on the power of one. One day at a time and quite simply, how do you eat an elephant? One day at a time. It is kind of a visual for them and you have to focus on that one bite at a time when you are taking a bite out of training camp. We have to get the most out of each and every day."
We can have no bad days. We have to have great energy, we have to have great mental effort and great mental intensity each and every day. And for a young football team that is a challenge in itself. But we have really challenged them since they reported a couple days ago and so far so good. But again, tomorrow is another challenge and we have to learn from today and we are only as good as our last practice. So another opportunity to get better."
»(On the tight end position)
"We have some depth and we have some competition. As we know, everything in our football program is about competition. So to be able to go out there and have these individuals competing is great and that elevates the play of everyone."
FRESHMAN RUNNING BACK JALEN HURD
»(On learning pass blocking schemes)
"To learn my downs and stuff like that, I'd look on Madden. My friends, we'd play Madden, and I'd see the front and I'd try to say what the front was, and who I'd have in the protection and stuff like that. So I'd try to have a little fun with it."
» (The importance of pass blocking)
You can run the ball in this league, but if you can't pass block, you can't get on the field. In high school, pass blocking really wasn't a big thing, but pass blocking is the most important thing now. You pass block first, run the ball second."
JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER VON PEARSON
»(On difference between JUCO and the SEC)
"The work ethic is the big thing. In JUCO, it's kind of laid back. At my old school, we only had three coaches, so having all of these coaches around here that are teaching you technique and working on your habits is a lot."
»( On having a top play on SportsCenter during the spring)
"Nothing like that had ever happened to me, and I really enjoyed it."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE BACK JUSTIN COLEMAN
»(On Elliott Berry's rumored football diary)
"I haven't personally seen his notebook but I know that he has a lot of knowledge and he likes to write everything down. If anybody asks him a question, he's going to know it and if he doesn't know it, the answer is going to be pretty close."
»(On sharing experiences with the freshmen)
"I feel like my experience is going to show. Anything that's been bad in the past, I can see it now immediately. I'll be able to communicate that to the younger guys and they can understand."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN JACOB GILLIAM
»(On getting back on the field with live action)
"It's obviously a lot more fun than sitting in here running around and playing with weights. At the end of the day, football is what I came here to do so it's a lot more fun to come out here and play. I'm excited for tomorrow when I get to hit somebody."
»(On expectations from Coach Mahoney)
"Coach Moe outlines everything he wants from you every day. It's pretty much work hard, finish and give effort. That's what we all do. Everyone in the offensive line, that's our main goal every day."
FRESHMAN TIGHT END ETHAN WOLF
»(On getting into the groove of things)
"Spring helped me out a lot. It helped me get the ropes in terms of the offense.Everything that we are installing right now is review. It has given me a big head start as opposed to coming in May. I am extremely happy, and I feel like I have my feet under me a little bit more."
» (On coming in during spring instead of summer)
"It was extremely valuable mentally and physically. Getting into the weight program in the winter was huge. I had to make the changes to my body that were necessary to play this year to play as a freshman. I wouldn't have rather done anything else."
SENIOR TIGHT END BRENDAN DOWNS
»(On utilizing the tight end position this year)
" We are a lot better off now. Everyone is working in different roles. There is plenty of room for lots of tight ends to get on the field."
»(On more big play abilities this year)
"I think we have more. I feel like that was evident in the spring. I was spectating then, but I saw it then. Now, we are seeing it early in camp too."