KNOXVILLE — Rudy Reveiz has a nice ring to it.
But Nick Reveiz’s coaches and teammates say he’s no Rudy Ruettiger — the famous Notre Dame walk-on whose story of dedication became a major motion picture — despite a similar height, walk-on history and practice-field ferocity at a major college football program.
Reveiz, the son of former University of Tennessee All-American kicker Fuad Reveiz, has spent all of spring practice as the Volunteers’ first-team middle linebacker.
A junior-to-be, Reveiz is on pace to contribute more during games than Ruettiger did at Notre Dame.
That doesn’t mean the Knoxville-area native and UT legacy has taken anything for granted. Listed at 5-foot-10 and probably standing closer to 5-8, Reveiz has become known for treating every practice like a Southeastern Conference game.
First-year UT linebackers coach Lance Thompson saw enough in week 1 to question whether he’d ever “coached a player who brings it every single day the way Nick brings it.”
That will never stop, Reveiz pledged after leading the starters with seven tackles in last Friday’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.
“I’d like to say I bring toughness,” Reveiz said. “I’d like to say I hustle to the ball, and I try not to get out-toughed. Whenever I get tired, I try to push and keep working.
“I don’t let the circumstances control me. I control the circumstances.”
Need proof of that? Consider Reveiz’s first conversation with new Vols head coach Lane Kiffin.
Reveiz — who worried that UT’s coaching change would nullify the countless hours he worked to earn respect at this level — strolled into Kiffin’s office in January to introduce himself.
“I asked him if he was a kicker,” Kiffin recalled.
“I just knew the name, and it was the first or second day I was here,” Kiffin continued. “So I said something to him like, ‘So you’re a kicker.’ And he said, ‘No, I’m a linebacker.’ I kind of felt embarrassed.
“He just put his head down. I apologized to him, but he said, ‘You’re not the first person to say it.’”
Far from it.
Rarely do months pass when a new media member doesn’t ask Reveiz why he plays football, instead of simply kicking one.
His two-fold answer never varies: He doesn’t share his father and uncle Carlos’s natural ability to kick, and he enjoys living his father’s dream of being a position player.
“I started playing football in second or third grade, and my dad was like, ‘Nick, you want to try kicking?’” Nick said. “I said, ‘I’ll try it, sure.’ We had two little trees in the back yard, and they were about field-goal width apart, roughly. He held up the ball for me, and I was like, ‘OK, here we go.’ I took three steps back, two to the opposite side and … I was horrible.
“We were out there for like 45 minutes, and I just wasn’t any good. I was like, ‘Sorry, dad, this just isn’t me.’”
Fuad wasn’t disappointed. He grew up playing soccer in Columbia and always loved the full-contact aspect of sports. He, Nick and younger son Shane — also a UT linebacker — still wrestle in the family living room.
“I value my dad’s opinion over anything,” Nick said. “I joke around with my dad that he was just a kicker and everything, but my dad’s been around football a long time, and I really look up to him and seek his opinion and encouragement. He really keeps my spirits up.”
That boost has been necessary on several occasions, Nick said. His powerfully compact frame and shaved head look nothing like a vehicle for tears, but the player said he’s broken down a few times.
“I’m not going to lie — there’s been times in the locker room that I’ve cried, because I thought my shot here was over, and I was done,” he said.
Ruettiger famously cried for similar reasons, including when Dan Devine replacedt Ara Parseghian as Notre Dame’s head coach in 1975.
“The biggest thing that my dad has taught me was just discipline, that you never gain something by not giving up something else,” Nick said. “You have to sacrifice every single day. In order to improve, you have to feel like you have to prove something every single day.
“No one’s going to accomplish anything if they don’t work.”
Moments later, another reporter overheard Reveiz’s words and asked him about the Ruettiger comparison.
“It’s funny,” Reveiz said. “It’s fine. Rudy, I guess, displays a hard-working person, and that’s what I’d like to be known as.
“The No. 1 goal for me in my position now is to show kids that anybody can do it. It doesn’t matter how tall you are, or how much you weigh. If you have the ability to play, and you play as hard as you can, then you can do it.”
Former UT head coach Phillip Fulmer ultimately rewarded Reveiz with a scholarship, and the new staff hasn’t announced plans to discontinue the deal. Reveiz’s teammates no longer consider him a walk-on, but the little linebacker has refused to relinquish that nonscholarship mentality.
“Nick’s always the one that’s got the most energy, and the most passion and pride for the game,” said quarterback B.J. Coleman of Chattanooga. “And I think Nick does a great job. He’s always got the defense lined up where they need to be, and they’re always playing at 100 percent.
“Nick’s one of those guys that came on the team as a walk-on, and he earned himself a scholarship. And he definitely earned it. ... He’s a guy that really gives his all to our University every day because he loves it. He’s a guy that everybody can look up to.”