KNOXVILLE -- The voices of his fellow linebackers began to crescendo as Herman Lathers lined up across from a tackling dummy.
Wednesday morning's Tennessee football practice was just the junior's second day back in pads, and his teammates thought it appropriate to make more of the drill. It's that kind of support that helped bring Lathers back to such a position.
"It's been good," he said. "A lot of my teammates brought me through this tough situation. It was tough, just having a freak accident the way I did. It was tough on me because I was ready to quit.
"I was wondering why it was always me that was getting injured. They brought me through a lot, and I'm thankful for them."
It's been more than 10 months since Lathers last played in a game for the Volunteers. Offseason shoulder surgery forced him to miss spring practice, and he fractured his ankle in a collision with a teammate during a June workout. Lathers practiced the last two days in a noncontact jersey.
For an individual who was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 10 and overcame the disease five years later, the back-to-back injuries were almost enough to kill his spirit.
"It's been almost a year," Lathers said. "[It's] just something I've got to deal with. I just thank [former UT linebacker] Nick Reveiz: He's always been calling and checking on me and pulling me through it."
Lathers still rehabs his shoulder three times a week. He said the most pain he feels in his ankle is the soreness after he moves around or stands on it for a long time. He was hoping to return by mid-October, and even though he's practicing, his ankle remains heavily taped.
The chances of him playing for the Vols in the last month don't appear to be high.
"Hopeful is a good word," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "But I don't expect him to. We'll just see. We'll take it week to week."
Said Lathers: "I'm trying to push through it and get some drills done. I've got to take [it] day by day. We'll just monitor my progress this week and decide from there."
UT's four major injuries (quarterback Tyler Bray, receiver Justin Hunter, strong safety Brent Brewer and Lathers) are hard to ignore, but the Vols missed freshman linebacker/defensive end Curt Maggitt in the loss to South Carolina last week. UT's fourth-leading tackler has practiced fully this week after a calf injury sidelined him against the Gamecocks, and Dooley is glad to have him back.
"He brings a lot, and it hurt us in the game not having him," the coach said. "But that's part of the game. We can't whine about injuries because everybody gets them, everybody gets injuries every year, and the important thing is to build your team with depth and experience so when you do have those injuries, it doesn't really have a giant effect.
"It will always have a little effect, but you can overcome them with a deep and talented football team."
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 ...