Commentary by Mark Wiedmer
KNOXVILLE - The last Monday media lunch of his University of Tennessee football career just ended, Nick Reveiz encountered a small gathering of reporters as he exited Neyland Stadium's Stokely Family Media Center.
Shaking the right hand of everyone in the group, Reveiz said, "I'm going to miss you guys."
Then he wrapped his arm around associate athletic director Bud Ford and left the premises, presumably to watch game video of Saturday opponent Kentucky.
"I've thought a little bit about this maybe being my last game," he'd said moments earlier, mindful that the Vols must beat the Wildcats for a 26th straight November if they are to become bowl-eligible. "It's still surreal. It's back to high school again. This is like a playoff game: Win or go home."
At the risk of violating the sports writer's code of impartiality, coming to grips with the notion that we may be covering Reveiz's last college football game is surreal for us, too. And a bit discomforting. We're going to miss him. A bunch.
Part of it's been his heart and his head. He's bright, polite, passionate, resourceful, respectful. My home is filled with little girls only, so I can't hope a son grows up to become another Nick Reveiz. But he certainly always has seemed like the kind of guy I'd be proud to have one of my two daughters marry.
But most college football teams are filled with hometown walk-ons who play for the logo on the side of the helmet rather than the name on the back of the jersey. Especially when their father still holds a slew of meaningful kicking records, as Fuad Reveiz does.
What separates Nick Reveiz beyond the broken bones and shredded knees he's recovered from to go from walk-on to all-star is his attitude about it all. The injuries alone could have left him broken and bitter. Playing for three coaches and three distinctly different defensive schemes in his final three seasons could have made him frustrated and selfish.
Instead, he said of the knee injury a year ago that almost ended his career: "September 26, 2009, the night I tore up my knee, changed my life. I've enjoyed the sweet moments, but I've grown a lot from the bittersweet moments."
Of the coaching changes he said, "Nobody likes change. But change made me a better player and a better person. I am a college student first, and a I learned a lot in class and earned a degree, but football taught me so much about life, about its ups and downs. I'll never forget the time I spent here."
This isn't to hint that Reveiz ever will confuse romance with reality. Despite all they've been forced to endure since 2008, when Phillip Fulmer was pressured into resigning, Reveiz knows a second losing season in three years - the Vols currently stand 5-6 heading into the regular-season finale against Kentucky - won't improve his class's legacy.
"The [Kentucky] game will be a big part of where this senior class ends up [in the minds of the public]," he said. "But it's still just one game."
Where Reveiz will end up in UT history figures to be much better. He's already recorded five double-figure tackle games this season after earning his degree last spring. Monday it was announced he's a candidate for the [Brandon] Burlsworth Trophy, which will be presented to the nation's former walk-on who's excelled the most.
Said UT coach Derek Dooley when asked about that potential honor: "Tremendous leadership by example. He's our most productive player on defense. He gives back to the community as well as anybody. Nick's very strong in his faith. I think every parent, when they raise their little boys, they want them to grow up today like Nick."
But what does Saint Nick want?
"Ever since I was 8 years old I've wanted to play in the National Football League," Reveiz said. "I believe [God] sees my desire and will help any way he can. But if he needs me to be a missionary in South Africa, I'm ready for that, too."
Kind of makes you miss him already, doesn't it?