(Photo and Release courtesy of Tennessee Sports Information)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — 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.