KNOXVILLE — The desire to get back into college athletics was there.
An opportunity to work for his alma mater made it even sweeter.
Nearly a year after returning from a life-changing experience on a popular reality television show, Antone Davis is where he wants to be as Tennessee's Vol for Life program coordinator.
"I think [I was] just looking for a change," Davis said Wednesday in his first media appearance since Volunteers coach Derek Dooley hired him last month. "I spent five years in the restaurant business — that's not the business I need to be in. I have a lot to offer these guys from the standpoint of what I've done on the field and off, and I just think it really winds up being the perfect way to get me back here.
"Truthfully, I've wanted to get back for quite some time. Even when I lived in Florida, I wanted to coach — wanted to be around in some form or fashion — and like I said, this winds up being the perfect fit. I've been knocking on the door for a long time looking for the right opportunity."
The former Tennessee offensive lineman spent seven years in the NFL with Philadelphia and Atlanta after his senior season with the Vols in 1990. He believes those playing days and his own recent personal turnaround will help him in his off-the-field interactions with Tennessee's players.
The 6-foot-4 Davis, then a restaurant owner and manager in Florida, weighed 476 pounds when he began his run as a contestant on NBC's "The Biggest Loser," but by the end of the show he had lost 202 pounds.
"I would hope that just who I am and the fact that I played here and have history here, I hope that that would be the reason," he said. "Coach [Dooley] is intense, but he has clear direction. He knows where he wants to go, and he knows where he wants to take the program, so I have a lot of respect for that."
Davis' goal in the near future is simply to get acquainted with Tennessee's players, which he hopes eventually will allow him to "infiltrate these guys' lives" and become an off-the-field resource. His other focus is better connecting Tennessee's large network of lettermen.
That's one of the changes Dooley envisioned with the program he created when he decided to change coordinators.
"That's one of my directives, is really to be a voice to the lettermen, to let them know that not only are they welcomed back, but that we want them back, we need them back," Davis said. "I think it's good to have that presence at practice, in meetings and even at games, to have those guys around. Every player that's worn the jersey can be a resource for the players that are here now."
Bray play day
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was pleased with quarterback Tyler Bray's performance in Tennessee's season-opening win.
"I think he played very well," Chaney said. "We thought he missed a few things, but he threw the ball down the field as accurate as he ever has, I believe. His command of the game and leadership was pretty doggone good.
"The big plays are incredibly important. If we only had three healthy wide receivers and we make 15 big plays, I'd still be happy. Hitting the big plays when they're afforded to him, that's a special sign when you're hitting those alerts, and for him it's understanding coverage a little bit better."
Though the Vols finished with 191 yards rushing last Friday, Chaney was unhappy with the offense's blocking. That's been stressed repeatedly as the Vols prepare for Georgia State's Saturday visit. It's not been a stress point for just Tennessee's offensive line, either.
"We blocked them, but we didn't block like we would like to block," Chaney said. "That's been a point of emphasis all this week for us, just to increase our fundamentals of blocks: our targets, our leverage, all the little things that come into being a successful blocking team. That's the one thing I left the game thinking I wish we could have done a little better.'
Dooley believes his staff is fully on board with the Vols' big "philosophical" offseason changes — a more aggressive style on defense and exclusively going no-huddle on offense.
"I think it's fair to say that there's no member on our staff that isn't committed to the same purpose, committed to the same goals, doesn't believe in how we're doing things and what we're doing," Dooley said. "Staff unity always means team unity, so that's important."
Linebackers Herman Lathers (shoulder) and Curt Maggitt (leg) dressed for Wednesday's practice and participated in some drills. How much they do in this morning's workout could go a long way in determining if and how they'll play Saturday. Dontavis Sapp and Willie Bohannon would fill in if they can't play.
Freshman Alton "Pig" Howard (foot) continues to recover, and he spent most of the open-viewing period Wednesday morning working as the Wildcat quarterback with fellow freshman Justin King. Dooley said he expects freshman receiver Jason Croom (hamstring) to be available Saturday.
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 ...