My career as a student-athlete was a catastrophe. My first two years was a rollercoaster ride filled with unbelievable twists and turns. The transition from high school to college can be a problematic experience for anyone, especially if they are not prepared or focused. Athletically, it became overwhelming to me because I wasn’t mentally prepared which poured over to academics. The jump from high school to major college football is a substantial one in terms of speed, talent, physicality, and complexities of the game. It all started when the freshmen reported to campus.
The start of two-a-day practices was less than a month away and the coaches wanted to get us on campus to start out to get adjusted to life away from home and the demands of being a Volunteer. Individual meetings, weight training and learning the playbook was our primary focus. Freshmen camp lasted for two weeks which gave the coaching staff time to evaluate our talent level and our suitability to play. Everybody in our class was blue-chip recruits, there were no bad players. We were all on the same team and we had to prove ourselves all over again.
They made it well known that they were ooking for playmakers who was ready to step up to major college football. The college game is played at a faster tempo by quicker, stronger and more explosive players than in the high school. We were doing one-on-one drills against the defensive backs one morning practice in Neyland Stadium. I was going against Mark Fletcher, the hard-hitting safety from Cincinnati. I ran a five-yard hitch route. Fletch got an excellent break because by the time I caught the pass, he hit me so hard that he cut my chin.
Welcome to the SEC! My practice habits were erratic at best. I lacked completion, commitment, and consistency unning the routes, catching routine passes and learning the system. At times, I looked like a fish out of water and other times I showed promise. The complexity of the offensive systems plays and terminology. In high school, the plays were less complicated, but then offensive coordinator Walt Harris’ had one of the most intricate offensive schemes I have ever seen. I was physically capable of playing wide receiver at UT, but I continued to struggle learning the playbook.
To this day, I am not sure if the problem was more a matter of being unable to unwilling to do the work necessary to learn the Vols offense. My inability to learn the playbook was a consistent theme that emerge during freshmen camp and continued with the start of fall camp. My struggles picking up the offense continued and I started to become overwhelmed and discouraged. The more frustrated I got the more it showed on and off the field. The demands of a Division I student-athlete was a difficult adjustment for me.
It was a difficult adjustment getting used to how the coaches and academic counselors tightly managed our daily schedule and routine. During season it was easy to spend 50 to 60 hours a week on athletics and academics. We were bogged down with practice, team meetings, position meetings, weight lifting, studying film and curfew. I had mandatory breakfast 6 a. m. , morning classes because we had to be done by 1 p. m. for weight training and individual meetings before practice. Typically, practice ended around 6 p. m. for dinner.
Then it was study hall at 8 p. . , homework after study hall and bed by 12:30 or 1 a. m. In the off season, we had winter workouts and spring ball getting ready for the upcoming season. We were committed to anywhere between 20 to 40 hours a week for training depending on the week. As I said before, the best and worst thing about college is there is always something to do other than studying, going to class, and practicing. At that time, Gibbs Hall, the athletic dorm was being renovated and we lived in South Carrick. It was there I became obsessed with the social aspects of college.
My life shifted to doing as many things as possible to escape my reality. I spent as least time as possible around the complex. I went to meeting, weight trainings and practice. Other than that I playing spades in North Carrick. South Carrick housed the girls and North Carrick was for the boys. Like oths to a flame, we gravitated to North Carrick because that’s where all the action was. There was always something going on in North Carrick. It was the place where we hung out chilling, talking trash, and playing cards.
I was one of the best spades players on campus. If there was a spades game on campus chances were I was somewhere in the mix. When I wasn’t playing cards, I was either hanging on the strip, at a Greek party or flirting with some girl. The first girl I dated at UT was a junior. She caught my eye one night while I was playing cards in North Carrick. She was a very attractive young lady. She was a sexy little petite lady with light brown eyes with shoulder length hair. But there was one obstacle. She was dated one of my teammates when they were in high school.
I wasn’t sure whether they were still messing around, but I knew one thing, I wanted to go out with her. It was bad enough that I was a freshman, but she had history with one of my teammates. Neither one of us crossed that line without making sure that he was okay with it. Once he signed off on it, we started dating. As an upperclassmen, she lived in Strong Hall which allowed male visitors as long as we didn’t spend the night. I spent countless night sneaking in and out of her dorm room. She quickly became someone that I had strong feelings for and being around her made me happy.
If I wasn’t in class, or at football practice, I was with her. I stopped playing cards as much as I used to. For the most part, she had me wrapped around her finger. I was at her begging call, both day and night, not matter the weather outside. The more time we spent together, the more I struggled with going to class, study hall and meeting with tutors. Academically, classes couldn’t keep my attention long enough for me to go to class regularly. I struggled to maintain a balance between the things I wanted to do and those I needed to do.
To a large degree, I abused the free limited freedom, independence and latitude of a student-athlete. As it was with football, I lacked the completion, commitment, and consistency to be a successful student. I was more concerned with having a good time. My GPA first semester of freshmen year was bad enough to put me on academic probation. At semester’s end, my final grades was a “B” in English and the rest “Ds” and “Fs”. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I felt myself shutting down. I needed to escape from my present reality, at least for a while, or so I thought.
I was completely hopeless and very unhappy for the first time in my life. I remember things got so bad that I wanted to quit until Coach Fulmer and I talked afterl had a terrible practice. He acknowledge my struggles, but encouraged me not to give up. I took his advice to heart because he took the time to talk to me. Back then, Coach Fulmer was the offensive line coach and had a reputation for being one of the tougher coaches. I felt my student-athlete career crumbling before it had a chance to materialize.