published Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Vols' Lincoln maintains faith


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE -- Daniel Lincoln considers himself physically stronger than most place-kickers. The junior has broken every Tennessee weightlifting record for his position.

"We've got the buffest kicker in the nation," junior defensive end and friend Chris Walker has joked on multiple occasions.

Lincoln clearly hasn't been 100 percent physically for the past several weeks, as a nagging quadriceps injury has shrunk the distance and trajectory of his once booming kicks.

Still, physical problems probably aren't Lincoln's biggest obstacles at this point. His third consecutive miss Saturday at archrival Alabama was his second blocked ball of the fourth quarter, and it came as time expired to preserve the unbeaten Crimson Tide's 12-10 win.

Psychological strength is the key, Lincoln said.

And that has not been and will never be a problem, he added.

"Everything happens for a reason," Lincoln said less than an hour after Saturday's wild finish. "I believe in faith overcoming any circumstance. Somebody that's mentally weak or spiritually weak allows circumstances to dictate their reaction and how they act, and the things that they do, and how they move forward. Some people can move forward. Some people can live in the past.

"How I react from here, and how this team reacts from here, will say it all."

Several national and Alabama media members were surprised when Lincoln emerged from the locker room to field questions Saturday night, but those who cover him on a daily basis expected a postgame presence from one of the team's most consistently accessible players.

Lincoln was an all-conference kicker and defender in high school, as well as being a National Honor Society member, three-year class president and Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader. He showed that mettle by never batting an eye during 15 minutes of questions about his miserable day.

"Hey, Daniel, sorry, I'm sure you've already gone over this ...," one television reporter said, camera in hand.

"It's no problem," Lincoln interrupted. "You've got to ask about that one."

Lincoln later painted the full picture of his frustrating Saturday.

The sore quad -- which slowed his hot start this season and prevented him from kicking in practice all week before a disappointing performance against Auburn on Oct. 3 -- had gradually improved. He was "about 90 percent" Saturday until the latter portion of pregame warm-ups, when he felt another tweak. He tried to push through the pain but couldn't loosen the muscle, so trainers gave him medicine less than an hour before opening kickoff.

"I just tried to stay loose and stay warm all game and do the best I could do with things," Lincoln said. "I'm not going to stand here and use injuries as an excuse for my performance. Nobody at any other position would do that.

"I'm not 100 percent, but who is 100 percent this time of year, at any position?"

Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin said he received his standard pregame kicking report from offensive coordinator Jim Chaney up in the booth. Chaney and others watch Lincoln warm up before recommending a comfortable field-goal range for each side of the field.

"I always have a number, depending on which way we're going," Kiffin said.

But Kiffin said he didn't have any indication that Lincoln's leg had gotten worse while warming up before the game.

"He didn't say anything about it," Kiffin said. "That's normal with our players. They're so competitive that a lot of times when something happens, they don't want to say anything, because they're afraid they're going to be taken out."

Kiffin said Lincoln missing inches short from 47 yards just before halftime weighed slightly on his mind, as did the blocked 44-yard try early in the fourth quarter. But the coach still felt confident enough to run more than 30 seconds off the clock before calling time out to set up Lincoln's 43-yarder.

The head coach said he'd have called one more offensive play, though, had he been given a heads-up on Lincoln's health.

"But then again, you know, he kicks the one at the end of the first half, and it's a yard short," Kiffin said. "It's not like he was 10 yards short on it. So just judging off how he kicked that one, that's good (enough).

"It's just an unfortunate deal."

Lincoln couldn't be reached for comment after Kiffin told his version of the story, but the kicker said Saturday night that he never contemplated taking himself out of the game. He kicked through a leg injury last season, too -- and it showed, as he failed to match his Freshman All-America statistics -- and he thought he had enough juice for the final try.

"I had no doubts," he insisted. "None whatsoever."

The kicker, as he always does, grinned at holder Bram Cannon just before the play and said, "Here we go."

"I smiled at him, and he smiled back, and then we snapped the ball," Lincoln said. "As soon as it went off my foot, I was like, 'Yes.' I heard a thud. It sounded good. But then I heard a second thud, and that's never a good thing in my position.

"When you look at the film, and you look at my follow-through, the ball's going right between the uprights. It makes you sick."

The kick's trajectory was a tad low, Kiffin said, but it might not have mattered with Terrence Cody's push up the middle and Julio Jones' soaring leap on the second level.

"I can say or think whatever I want, but the fact is the kick missed," Lincoln said. "As a kicker, two things happen: You make it or you miss it. I missed that one. That's all that matters."

But that won't affect future kicks, Lincoln said. He plans to go through his normal routine before Saturday night's home game against No. 21 South Carolina, and he plans to trot on the field and kick when Kiffin calls for it.

And he doesn't plan to miss next time, despite temporarily lacking the power to drill kicks from 50-plus yards.

"If I don't trust my teammates to do their jobs up front, and I don't trust my ability to make every kick, then I shouldn't be out there," Lincoln said. "But I always believe in my teammates and myself."

Teammates reciprocate those feelings.

"Daniel Lincoln's an All-American kicker for a reason, and we all know that," junior linebacker LaMarcus Thompson said. "I have full confidence in him. We all do. We know he'll bounce back and get the job done next time."

Junior defensive end Chris Walker, a close friend of Lincoln's who has traveled with him to FCA leadership conferences, agreed with Thompson.

"The only thing I've said to Daniel is, 'Keep your head up. We still believe in you,'" Walker said. "But he knows that. Daniel knows God has a plan for him, and this is just a little obstacle he's going to have to get over. And we're going to help him get over it."

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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