KNOXVILLE — Unlike a number of other players in his recruiting class at Tennessee, Greg King still is playing football for the Volunteers.
Injuries, however, have forced the linebacker to spend more time than he’d like watching from the sideline than playing on the field.
“It’s hectic, man,” the rising junior said after Tuesday’s practice. “You have all this good momentum, you come in your freshman year and things just die down and fall over.”
In his second start late in his freshman season, King broke his elbow. He hurt his left knee the following spring, and the pain lingered into the fall and forced his sophomore season to end with surgery in October after he played in just four games.
“I got down mentally,” he said. “I tried to do what I could, I tried to lean on some of the players to keep me up and motivated, and [team chaplain] Roger Woods, known as ‘Chap,’ he kept me up. I got back [during bowl practice]. I practiced a lot, but I just didn’t do the whole. I did parts of it, whatever I could do, so they limited me.”
King has ditched his knee brace, and he’s healthy again for the first time since he arrived in 2009 as part of former UT coach Lane Kiffin’s lone recruiting class — a group that’s now permanently missing seven players and lost star safety Janzen Jackson for this spring at least. Some others have made little impact.
The former Memphis Melrose High School standout chuckled at the mention of how his recruiting class has been more disappointing than fulfilling.
“We actually talk about it often,” King said. “We had a little meeting, what we call a real meeting, and the guy told us half of your recruiting class might not be here the following year or two years or three years after this.
“When you look back on it it’s like, he wasn’t lying. Off of stupid stuff. It hurts me because a few left just because of simple reasons, but we just look at each other and we’ve got to be that backbone for each other. We came in together; we’re going to leave together. We do what we can to keep each other up.”
King’s own impact on the program hasn’t necessarily been significant yet, but his return to health could change that this season. The Vols lost their top two linebackers, and returning starter Herman Lathers remains sidelined after offseason shoulder surgery. That means King, one of UT’s biggest linebackers at 235 pounds, must show some growth this spring. He’s working at the weakside spot.
“We need Greg to be a dependable player,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “He’s obviously got the size and he’s got the explosion, but he’s missed a lot of football and he’s got a long ways to go. I saw some signs out there today.
“I haven’t seen the gimping around like I did for a whole year ... so let’s learn how to tackle a guy. Before it was because I’m hurt. Well, now what is it?”
Those thoughts are going through King’s mind, and he’s doing what he can to make himself known on the field instead of the sideline.
“‘This is another year; this is your time to step up. You’ve got to help this team out. We’ve got to do better this year,’” he said. “So I try my best, go at it, ask questions if I don’t know anything and go about my day. It’s not enough hearing from [the coaches]. You’ve got to replay it in your head like a movie or a tape recorder.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...