KNOXVILLE -- At 6:10 Saturday evening, Derrick Brodus was doing what you'd expect any red-blooded American college student to be doing on one of the biggest college football weekends of the year.
"I was laying on my couch watching some football," he said.
At least he was until he got a call from Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley that his presence was desperately needed at Neyland Stadium as soon as possible. Immediately, if not sooner, would be more accurate.
"Just when I thought I'd had it all happen to me," Dooley said after the Volunteers' 24-0 win over Middle Tennessee on Saturday night. "Just when I think nothing else could surprise me, I have to make a call to the fraternity house to find a kicker."
He had to make that call because starting kicker Michael Palardy went down late in the week with an injury. Then backup kicker Chip Rhome pulled a muscle during warm-ups.
"We started having [defensive tackle and McCallie School grad] Joseph Ayres practicing kickoffs," Dooley said. "We had to have somebody."
Brodus was the last body standing, a redshirt freshman walk-on kicker from Maryville who played his high school football at Alcoa, where he was an all-state soccer player in both 2009 and 2010.
"When I got the call, I honestly didn't know what was going on," Brodus said. "I thought it was a dream."
It wasn't. The campus police picked him up halfway to the stadium. He stretched for a minute or two while they found equipment for him to wear.
Then he pulled on a No. 26 jersey, slipped on a white helmet with the power T on the side and trotted onto Neyland's perfect grass, suddenly swallowed whole by 88,221 fans. At least that was the official attendance.
"I tried a couple of kicks and kickoffs," Brodus said with a shrug. "I still can't believe it happened."
Added Dooley: "You don't find [reps] for three kickers. They're on their own out there. But when the team found out what was happening, they were jacked."
What happened next was what you hope always happens at homecoming. The home team won 24-0, at least partly because Brodus drilled all three of his extra points and a single 21-yard field goal just before the end of the first half.
That means running back Tauren Poole's two touchdowns led the Vols with 12 points, followed by wideout Da'Rick Rogers with six -- along with Brodus.
It was all enough to make Dooley's first words to the media following the Vols' first win since an Oct. 1 victory over Buffalo go as follows:
"The game ball goes to Derrick Brodus," he said.
And that's probably as it should be, though it should never be said that the entire University of Tennessee football team doesn't appreciate the merits of homecoming, of how it can reunite old friends and recall happy moments.
Matched against a willing victim, the Vols reunited their offense with the end zone and helped their fans recall the thrill of victory. Before this 24-0 victory over the Blue Raiders, both had pretty much been stored away in some dusty trunk in the attic for the vast majority of the past month.
But not this night. Not with the UT alumni band and alumni cheerleaders having come home to Neyland. Not with "Rocky Top" taking on an air of nostalgia. Not with Middle being the last certain opportunity for victory this season.
Sure, the Big Orange still failed to score a single point after intermission for the fourth straight game, which is surely some kind of modern record. Or should be.
And the Arkansas win over South Carolina on Saturday night in the Big SEC Game Nobody Knew Was A Big Game probably means the Vols could quickly return to their losing ways Saturday in the Hogs' Pen.
Nevertheless, Middle was the game the Vols had to have to make any bowl hope realistic, and Middle is the win they got.
That they got Brodus for a sidebar even made it all so much better.
"It was a good thing he wasn't having too much [fun] Saturday afternoon," Dooley said. "But it was like I told my coaches before he got here: 'Hey, an intoxicated Brodus is better than nobody. Just get him here and we'll do a breathalyzer.' Fortunately, he hadn't done anything bad."
Said the story too good to be true, a giggle punctuating his words when asked if he'd celebrate Saturday night's win with an adult beverage: "I'm not quite 21 yet."
And without Brodus on the sideline, the Vols might still be trying to reach 21 points against Middle.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...