KNOXVILLE — You can’t cover major college sports these days without covering controversy.
The misdeeds have practically always been there, but this Age of Technology has made them more difficult than ever to hide. Therefore, they’re everywhere. I’m rarely surprised by anything I read or hear, whether it’s a source telling me something happening at Tennessee or another Southeastern Conference program, or something a colleague across the country tells me about another program in another league.
But I would be stunned if I ever saw Nick Reveiz’s name surface in a shocking subject.
I would be legitimately stunned.
Reveiz, according to everyone I’ve ever asked — seriously, no exaggeration, everyone — is a good guy. He mentions his faith in just about every interview, but never seemingly for show. He spends a large percentage of his precious free time speaking with schools, churches and youth organizations in the Knoxville area. And he legitimately loves telling his stories about faith, family, friends and football.
On or off the record, stories about Reveiz never change.
And quite honestly, his story never gets old.
The son of former UT and NFL kicker Fuad Reveiz and nephew of former UT and NFL kicker Carlos Reveiz looks as vertically challenged as most kickers. But the workout warrior has spent years packing 224 pounds of pure power onto that 5-foot-8 frame, and he’s spent hours in the film room mastering his position — the middle linebacker, or “Mike.”
It’s overly simplistic and catastrophically cliche to say Reveiz is gutsy; a gamer, a coach on the field and a deceptively-quick athlete with a relentless fighting spirit.
I hate writing those words. Ugh. They’re written way too much. And in way too many of those way-too-many instances, they’re exaggerated.
But ... uh ... honestly ... Reveiz is all of those things. All of them.
Reveiz didn’t have a single NCAA Division I scholarship offer — not even a single, partial FCS offer — when he graduated from Knox County’s Farragut High School in the spring of 2006. Four falls later, he became the starting middle linebacker at Tennessee as a redshirt junior. Then he tore his ACL in the fourth game. It was a gut-punching moment for everyone in the program, even those who replaced Reveiz on the field.
But The Little Walk-On That Could rehabbed like a maniac, returned for contact in spring practice and has 73 tackles — 29 more than any teammate — this season. He’s led the SEC much of the season but recently slipped to eighth in the league at 8.1 stops per game.
Reveiz is the rare player who isn’t widely known outside Tennessee’s borders but will probably be offered more free meals than he’ll ever need after he graduates.
Most fans, even if they won’t admit it now, gasped when they learned before last season that Reveiz would start. Now, he’s arguably the most popular player on the team. He’s the local boy who never listened to those who told him he’d never be big or fast enough to play special teams — much less start on defense — at Tennessee. And now he’s blossomed into a borderline All-SEC player. Ten years from now, he’ll still be stopped for pictures while visiting campus.
I’ve covered an array of bizarre and often bad situations surrounding this program the past few years. But I’ve also covered Reveiz, whose feel-good story has occasionally reminded me why I wanted to be a sportswriter.
Here’s my one-on-one with Reveiz, the victim of this week’s “Wednesdays with Wes.”
Q: Got a second, Nick?
REVEIZ: “Yep, but only because you’ve got that fancy little recorder.”
Q: The best get the best.
REVEIZ: “Definitely. That looks high-tech. I’m impressed.”
Q: I’m impressed that you’re impressed, especially since I’ve seen the electronic equipment you guys have in this complex.
REVEIZ: “Not for the players’ use, though.”
Q: You can’t even rent that stuff? Lame.
Q: Seriously, though, I’ve got good news. It’s your lucky day.
REVEIZ: “Is it?”
Q: Indeed. It’s your turn for ‘Wednesdays with Wes.’
REVEIZ: “Cool! Oh, I’m down. I’ve been waiting for this. What took you so long?”
Q: I ask the questions. You answer them.
Q: Feeling good, are you? OK, here’s a fun first topic: Dexter McCluster...
REVEIZ: “Your memory, man...”
Q: Seriously, man? How could I forget? He got like 1,000 yards against you guys in that game. I know you weren’t playing, but still, that was ridiculous.
REVEIZ: “Yes, it was.”
Q: You know as much about UT football as anyone on the roster. Have you ever seen someone do that to a Tennessee defense?
REVEIZ: “The only thing I can remember that even comes close — and it’s still not to the volume of Dexter McCluster last year — was (Arkansas running back) Darren McFadden against us my freshman year, in 2006. He had an great game down there at Arkansas. That’s the only performance I can remember, even as a Tennessee fan growing up, that was that bad. Tennessee’s always been known for rushing defense, and obviously it’s a shame when something like that happens. We’ve got to make sure that something like that never happens again.”
Q: That can’t happen again. Dexter McCluster plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) Yes, he does. And good for him.”
Q: Sometimes it takes a long time for certain things to be funny to certain people. How long will it be until you can laugh at the 147 Dexter McCluster jokes I’ve thought of in the past year? One more year? Five more years? A decade?
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) A while.”
Q: You’re laughing now.
REVEIZ: “You’re a funny guy.”
Q: Seriously, will you guys ever been able to tell even a single joke about that?
REVEIZ: “At some point, way down the road, maybe. I remember leaving that stadium just in shock. I heard the records that he set — like Ole Miss records, records against Tennessee. I can’t remember hearing someone having that many yards against Tennessee.”
Q: That’s because no one has.
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) Thanks, man.”
Q: No need to thank me. Just doing my job.
REVEIZ: “I think 10 years down the road, it might be funny. But me, I’m such a serious guy that I think I might cry even when everyone else is ready to laugh about it.”
Q: How many times in a row would I have to say “Dexter McCluster” before you manned up and stopped me?
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) I can’t do that to you. He’s a great player. In fact, I can remember something funny. When we left that game, Monte (Kiffin) was saying, ‘That guy ... that guy ... let me tell you something ... that guys run a 4.1 (40-yard dash). Monte was like, ‘That guy’s going to be a great player in the NFL.’ And, you know, Monte was right. He is. I’ve got a lot of respect for that guy.”
Q: I want you to be honest here. When you showed up here as a 5-foot-Nothing walk-on, did you ever think you’d be a two-year starter here?
REVEIZ: “Quite honestly, when I first came in, I was very optimistic. I pride myself on always living my life by never being a realist. I’ve never been a pessimist, as far as that goes. I’ve never said, ‘This is what the world says I can do, so this is all can do,’ or, ‘This is what the expectations are, so I’m going set the bar here.’ I’ve always set extremely high expectations for myself. Even when I was a freshman walk-on here, and I was holding bags and running with the scout team, I remember just walking around campus and looking at the stadium every day, walking by it as much as possible, and thinking, ‘You know what? I’m going to start one day. I might be the only person in the world who thinks I’m going to start in that stadium, but I will. I will.’ That’s always been my goal.
“I feel like God gave me a passion to play this game, and He’s really just set my footsteps. I’ve worked hard. I really have. I’ve put in the hard work. But God has truly blessed me in my time here, with the opportunities that I’ve been given. A lot of walk-ons wouldn’t have been given the opportunities I was given by (Phillip Fulmer’s) coaching staff, and by (Lane Kiffin’s) coaching staff. I’ve had a lot of opportunities. I really have. I can’t just say it’s all me and my hard work.”
Q: That scene with you walking by Neyland every day sounds like a scene from “Rudy.”
Q: That’s not a crack on you, man. I come from a proud, Catholic family. Rudy Ruetigger is a legendary Catholic. And that movie never gets old. It’s fantastic.
REVEIZ: “You know what? That’s exactly how it feels. I can still recall things ... like my redshirt sophomore year here. It was after the Alabama game in 2008. We were having a really bad season. I remember I was second team ‘Mike,’ but Coach (John) Chavis put Rico (McCoy) at second-team ‘Mike,’ too, and Rico played that night, which kind of seemed like foreshadowing to me that the next year, I would probably be bumped out and wouldn’t be starting middle linebacker. I remember leaving the Alabama game just crying my eyes out thinking, ‘I’m never going to start here.’
“There’s definitely been times of despair. There’s been so many times where I would just pray and say, ‘Why, God? Why?’ But I just kept showing up, kept working hard and kept trusting the vision that God has given me. Seriously, I would walk around campus and see the stadium and just get chills. I just kept thinking, ‘One day, I’m going to start there. One day, I’m going to make plays in that stadium — and not just on special teams, but as a linebacker.’
“God gave me a vision, and I just kept going after it as hard as I could. I still do.”
Q: Why wasn’t God’s vision for you at kicker? You’re a Reveiz.
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) I don’t know. But I like the linebacker vision.”
Q: Seriously, Nick, why aren’t you a kicker?
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) I can’t kick, man. I just can’t.”
Q: So is this a vision from a higher power, or did you just never have any desire to be a kicker?
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) It might be both. A little bit of both. I’ve never had a passion for it. I don’t think God had a kicking plan set for me. But I did try it out when I was a kid. I gave it a shot. We had two trees in the backyard, about a field goal (uprights’) distance apart, and I tried to kick it with my dad out there. I just never got the hang of it and never liked it.”
Q: Your dad never pushed it? Never? That’s almost like Tiger Woods not pushing golf on his kids. Your dad was a kickin’ beast.
REVEIZ: “I know, right?”
Q: You have changed the course of your family’s history. Shane (Reveiz) is now a walk-on linebacker, here, too. But were you shunned by the family at first? Were you the black sheep?
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) The cool thing is my family’s never bothered me about it. My dad’s never once given me a hard time about it. In fact, I’ll always remember this about my dad. From day 1, he said, ‘Son, if you want to play ping pong, I’m going to support you. I’m going to support you, no matter what it is. Whatever you want to do, do it, because that’s going to be what you love.’ He supported me, no matter what. He’s a great dad. I’m a lucky guy.”
Q: How far could your dad kick a ping pong ball?
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) I don’t know. But I know for a fact that my dad has kicked a 70-yard field goal or some stupid distance like that.”
REVEIZ: “Yeah, a 70-yarder.”
Q: That had to be wind-aided.
REVEIZ: “Had to be.”
Q: Do you even know what part of the ball to kick, and what part of your foot to kick it with?
REVEIZ: “I think. Maybe. I don’t know.”
Q: Great answer.
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) I honestly don’t know. OK, I think I know a little bit about it — three steps back, two to the left. But I just don’t know. My dad had a kicking camp here every summer, and I’d come every summer and try to kick it around a little bit. But I’ve just never been good at it, and I’ve never liked it.”
Q: When did you finally surrender? Surely every coach you’ve ever had has made you try, right?
REVEIZ: “Yeah, definitely. My freshman year in high school, my coach was like, ‘Son, you’re a Reveiz. You’re going to come out here and try it. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care if you say you’re not a kicker.’ I went out there and tried it in front of the whole team. The whole team. I kicked it, and I hit someone in the back of the head. Everyone laughed.”
REVEIZ: “Yeah. Kind of like you’re laughing now.”
Q: One kick?
REVEIZ: “Yeah. That’s all it took. My coach said, ‘It must have skipped a generation.’”
Q: How tall were you as a high school freshman?
REVEIZ: “I was tiny. I was like 5-6, 150.”
Q: You’re like 5-6 now. There’s no way you were 5-6 as a high school freshman.
REVEIZ: “I might be exaggerating. I might have been like 5-4. But I think I was 5-6. The funny thing is, I never really grew much in high school. I was like 5-6 as a freshman, and, yeah, I’m not much bigger now.”
Q: Not much taller, anyway.
REVEIZ: “No. Not at all.”
Q: How tall are you? The roster says you’re 5-10, but if you’re 5-10, I’m 6-10.
REVEIZ: “I would like to put on record that I’m 5-9. Everyone else says I’m 5-8, but who knows?”
Q: I know. You’re 5-8.
REVEIZ: “(Loud laughter.)”
Q: I laugh every time I see 5-10 on the roster.
REVEIZ: “Yeah. That’s a tall tale.”
Q: 5-10 isn’t a tall tale.
REVEIZ: “It is for me.”
Q: OK, Paul Bunyan. Is the weight accurate (on the roster)? I think it says 224 pounds.
REVEIZ: “My weight fluctuates so much. I was 226 today, and it lists me at, yeah, like 224. I’ll range from 222 to 227.”
Q: That’s not fluctuating. That’s five pounds.
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) It feels like it.”
Q: What are you going to do when you’re done playing football? Are you going to try out for the NFL at all?
REVEIZ: “That’s a good question.”
Q: Of course it’s a good question.
REVEIZ: “Honestly, I feel like I’ve been given pretty clear instructions. I’ve prayed about it a lot, and in the moment, I’m just trying to enjoy my senior year and play as hard as I can. Right after the season is over, I’m going to go hard-core and just pray even more, and I’ll see the plan. I’ve always been very blessed and very fortunate in that God’s always spoken to me in a very clear way. He’s always giving me concrete signs of what I need to do. Quite honestly, maybe He’ll say I don’t need to pursue the NFL. Maybe that’s not the plan. Maybe it is, but maybe it’s not. Maybe the plan is to be a missionary in South Africa. I don’t know, man. I really don’t. But I’ll know when I know.
“The Lord will tell me after the season. But right now, all I can do is play football as hard as I can.”
Q: You’re never going to stop working out, either way. You have muscles that I didn’t know humans had.
REVEIZ: “Yeah. Working out’s never going to stop. Working out won’t stop, ever. The Lord talks about your body being a temple, and taking care of it. I’ll keep working out. But we’ll just see what happens after the season. My dream since I’ve been 8 has always been to play at Tennessee, and then play in the NFL. It’s hard. That’s my dream, but it might not be what God wants me to do. I don’t want to do anything just because it’s my dream. I’m not that selfish.”
Q: Let’s talk about something even more serious. Do you still have your hot-boy jean shorts?
Q: Your hot-boy jorts. Don’t look at me like that. I know all about them.
REVEIZ: “Do you?”
Q: You and (junior center) Cody Pope wore them on the boat during your spring break cruise.
REVEIZ: “(Sinks head.) Who told you about that?”
Q: I ask the questions here.
REVEIZ: “Seriously, man. Who told you? Where did you get this?”
Q: I don’t remember.
REVEIZ: “Yes, you do.”
Q: I don’t give up my sources.
REVEIZ: “Yes, you do.”
REVEIZ: “Dang. It could be anyone. You have inside information.”
Q: Yes, I do.
REVEIZ: “Who was it?”
Q: It was (senior strongside linebacker) LaMarcus Thompson.
REVEIZ: “LT? Really?”
Q: Yep. He even offered to send me the pictures, but I didn’t go that far.
REVEIZ: “OK, so me and Cody, we thought it would be cool — it was spring break, man — we thought it would be cool to have outfits.”
Q: Good start. Keep going.
REVEIZ: “Yes. Outfits. Matching outfits. For the boat.”
Q: Like a boy band.
REVEIZ: “Exactly. You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?”
Q: I think so. But keep going.
REVEIZ: “OK, so we go to this cheap store, and we buy these crusty old jeans, and we cut them to right here — literally, right here.”
Q: I’m not looking where you’re pointing.
REVEIZ: “(Laughter.) We frayed the edges, and we frayed the sleeves.”
Q: The sleeves on your matching shirts?
Q: Fun day?
Q: You’re a good sport. It’s your turn for a free shot on someone else. Name something embarrassing about one of your teammates.
(Senior defensive end Chris Walker walks up.)
REVEIZ: “How about something on Chris Walker? I’m sure I’ve got something on him.”
Q: No. He’s in the conversation now. You have to blind side someone. Besides, everyone knows something about Chris. Chris is an easy target.
WALKER: “I’m a what?”
Q: An easy target. OK, Nick, give me something on someone not named Chris Walker.
REVEIZ: “OK, I have something on Cody...”
Q: Come on, Nick. Everyone has a story about Cody Pope. My grandfather died before Cody Pope was born, and he knows 97 stories about Cody Pope.
REVEIZ: “(Junior linebacker) Austin Johnson, my brother and (junior linebacker) Jake Storey are friendly. Too friendly. Let’s just say that. They’re the three amigos, and they’re a little too friendly.”
Q: Do tell.
REVEIZ: “I just told you.”
Q: No. You started to tell me. Finish it. Do they also have matching outfits?
REVEIZ: “Oh, yeah. They always dress up together, and they’re always together.”
REVEIZ: “Yeah. They dressed up for Halloween together. Ask them about that.”
Q: I don’t know where they are.
REVEIZ: “Jake Storey was a girl.”
REVEIZ: “I know. He was a girl. Literally, he wore a sports bra, these tiny little girl shorts, and his two boyfriends were Shane and Austin. They were supposed to be nerds or something.”
Q: I don’t get it.
REVEIZ: “Me, either.”
Q: I think we’ll leave it at that. Imagination might be better than the real thing here.
REVEIZ: “Good point. But you should at least ask Jake about the details of his outfit.”
Q: Are all walk-ons as weird as Jake Storey?
REVEIZ: “Not that weird.”
Q: You were a walk-on at one point.
REVEIZ: “But I never dressed up as a girl.”
Q: Not yet.
REVEIZ: “Not ever.”
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com or 865-851-9739.
Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesruckerCTFP or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.