KNOXVILLE - Tennessee's coaches and players didn't need an outside opinion to know that senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz was one of the country's best players who came to college without an athletic scholarship, but he has been validated nonetheless.
The Volunteers' Reveiz was named Monday a nominee for the inaugural Burlsworth Trophy, which will be given to the nation's best player who started his career as a walk-on.
The award was named in honor of the late Brandon Burlsworth, who walked on at Arkansas in 1994 and became an All-American in 1998, his third season as a starting offensive tackle. Burlsworth was the 63rd overall selection in the 1999 NFL draft but was killed in a car accident 11 days later.
Asked how important Reveiz has been to his program, first-year UT head coach Derek Dooley said, "Oh, man. Where do you want to begin?"
"Tremendous leadership," Dooley said. "Tremendous leadership by example. Does it right on and off the field. He's our most productive player on defense. He gives back to the community as well as anybody. Very strong in his faith. He's what I think everybody when they raise their boys, they want them to be like Nick Reveiz. That's a testament to his parents and his family, but it's even a bigger testament to him, because he's the one that's done it.
"He's just a great example for everything."
Reveiz is eighth in the Southeastern Conference with 86 tackles, and he has 20 more stops than any teammate.
"It's been unbelievable how much of a leader he's been, even though he came here as a walk-on," said senior defensive end Chris Walker. "Some guys don't look at walk-ons as leaders, but that's Nick's personality. He means so much to our defense. Last year, we struggled without Nick [after he tore his ACL], and everybody saw that. This year, we're better with him, because of his field presence, because of his leadership on the field.
"If they asked me who should win that award, I'd say Nick. I'd say that every day."
A miserable season continues for sophomore defensive tackle Montori Hughes, who was supposed to be a staple for UT's defense but has struggled on and off the field.
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound sophomore from Murfreesboro will miss the Kentucky game with an academic suspension, Dooley said Monday.
"We're so thin and unproductive at defensive tackle, so anybody we lose there, it hurts the team, no question," Dooley said. "But we have an academic accountability system that they understand, and they know the consequences. I tell them it's the same old line: 'Everybody can do what they want. Everybody's got freedom of choice, but nobody's got freedom of consequence.'
"At some point, you can't play."
Hughes, who has been hampered with a handful of injuries, was also one of several Vols implicated in the fight at Bar Knoxville - though no criminal charges have come against him. He has started six of UT's 11 games and is tied for second on the team with five quarterback hurries, but he's buried on the list with just 16 tackles. He has 3.5 stops for loss, one sack, two pass break-ups, two pass deflections and one forced fumble.
Dooley said the media probably over-hyped Hughes heading into the season.
"I thought there were some unreasonable and unfair expectations on Montori, like there are a lot of high school guys," Dooley said. "There's so many things that go into playing to your capacity and being a good player. There was really no history of Montori playing well, was there?"
Dooley was then reminded that Hughes played well in some preseason scrimmages.
"A couple of scrimmages, yeah," Dooley said. "I think we beat Middle [Tennessee State] on him [in recruiting]."
UT senior end Gerald Williams was named SEC defensive lineman of the week after posting a career-high eight tackles and a sack and blocking a field-goal try at Vanderbilt.
Williams joked that he might have been the overall SEC defensive player of the week if his long interception-return touchdown wasn't wiped away by a late-hit penalty.
"But it's all good," Williams added. "We won the game, and that's all I care about."
Dooley said Williams' performance at Vanderbilt was his best this season.
"I'm proud of Gerald," Dooley said. "If you remember, we put [true freshman] Corey [Miller] in ahead of Gerald a couple of games ago. Here's a senior, and all of a sudden two weeks ago we start Corey over him. It goes back to your attitude. What are you going to do about it? Some guys sulk and say, 'Coaches don't like the old guys.' I'm not saying on our team; I'm just saying hypothetically.
"Some guys blame things. Well, here's Gerald, came out with even a better attitude, outplayed Corey in the game he got benched, got his job back and then had his best game of his career. That's what you love to see as a coach. And I wish every player could learn from that. Most of them don't. It's human nature. They want to blame, point fingers. I'm proud of Gerald for that."