Baylor Grad Mathis kicks for UT

Baylor Grad Mathis kicks for UT

November 22nd, 2009 by Wes Rucker in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE -- High school and college teammates have repeatedly drug Devin Mathis back out to the football field, and he keeps making field goals.

None bigger than Saturday night's, though.

Mathis, a Tennessee junior from the Baylor School, made a field goal and all four extra-point attempts in the Volunteers' 31-16 victory over Vanderbilt.

Not bad for a walk-on who spent a majority of 2009 studying abroad in Mexico, and didn't kick a football from January to June.

"I was just a normal student until a few weeks ago," Mathis said. "It's incredible. I never thought something like this would happen. It's a dream come true. It really is. I can't even describe what I'm thinking right now.

"Three weeks. I've been back (on the team) three weeks. This is crazy."

Mathis played with the Volunteers last season but left the program in January to accomplish another lifelong dream. He expected his football career to expire during a six-month stay South of the border, but roommates Jonathan Crompton and Wes Brown -- UT's starting quarterback and defensive -- urged him to return after starting kicker Daniel Lincoln pulled up with a lame quad in late October.

Vols senior guard Jacques McClendon convinced Mathis to tryout as a kicker when both were Baylor seniors, too.

"Devin's my boy, and we've been close since back in the day," McClendon said. "A bunch of us had to beg him to come try out for the football team when we were seniors. We knew he was a big-time soccer player, and we knew he had a boot. He's kicked the ball well in practice since he's been here, and kicking's like anything else.

"If you can play, you can play. And if you can kick, you can kick. And my boy can kick it."

Mathis kicked an extra point after UT's game-opening touchdown, and he added a 25-yard field goal later in the quarter to give the Vols a 10-0 lead.

Lincoln has had three kicks blocked this season, and he's generally booted the ball lower since injuring himself before the Alabama game.

Junior punter Chad Cunningham filled in for Lincoln against South Carolina, getting a 40-yard attempt blocked before connecting from 39 yards later in the game. Lincoln re-took the job, but he had a 45-yard attempt blocked in last week's loss at Ole Miss.

UT coach Lane Kiffin thanked special teams overseer Eddie Gran for endorsing Mathis's ability all week.

"Eddie was right," Kiffin said. "He can kick it. He did a great job."

Mathis kicked well enough to earn a Kiffin joke. The head coach was asked about Mathis in the postgame press conference, and Kiffin responded, "That's the kicker, right?"

BERRY UNDECIDED

UT All-American safety Eric Berry said he took an extra lap around Neyland and thanked fans because Saturday night might have been his last game in the stadium.

"You never know," Berry said afterward. "It might be, it might not be. Obviously, I've got some things to think about. I've got to start sitting down really start thinking about it in the next couple of weeks, and we'll see what happens.

"No matter what happens, I just wanted to let the fans know how much I appreciate all the support they've given me and the other guys, even though we've lost more games than Tennessee usually loses. I had to thank them."

NORMAN, NOT NORMAL

Versatile Vanderbilt star Warren Norman eclipsed Herschel Walker's long-standing SEC freshman all-purpose yardage record Saturday night.

Walker amassed 1,805 all-purpose yards for Georgia in 1984.

Norman entered Saturday's game with 1,789 all-purpose yards. His 162.6 yards per game entering Saturday was 10 yards better than anyone else in the SEC.

"He was one of the greatest running backs to play college football," Norman said. "It doesn't mean too much to me, because I'm not all about breaking records.

"It's an honor, though, just being mentioned with Herschel Walker. That's pretty cool."

DEFENSIVE SHUFFLE

The Vols made some expected and unexpected adjustments to their depth-depleted defense.

Junior Dennis Rogan, bothered all week by a quad injury, moved from cornerback and started at free safety in front of redshirt freshman Prentiss Waggner, who struggled during his start at Ole Miss. Sophomore Anthony Anderson, a Knoxville native, moved took Rogan's vacated cornerback spot.

Freshman Greg King played in Rico McCoy's weakside linebacker spot, but McCoy dressed despite a sore knee and played on the strong side, in place of injured junior LaMarcus Thompson. McCoy led all tacklers with eight stops at the break.

Receiver Quintin Hancock got a senior night start in place of junior Denarius Moore, but both played significant snaps throughout the game.

McCoy led the Vols with 15 tackles, and redshirt freshman middle linebacker Herman Lathers added 12.

"The way I see it -- and the way that we're coached -- is that if you're out there in a Tennessee uniform, you're supposed to play Tennessee football," Lathers said. "We weren't very good last week, but we were better tonight, and we got the win."