KNOXVILLE - Curt Maggitt admitted his expectations were modest when stepped on the Tennessee campus a little less than four months ago.
Since his much anticipated arrival, the Volunteers' talented freshman outside linebacker/defensive end has surprised even himself a little bit.
"I came in with the expectation of helping the team in any way possible," Maggitt said in the first media appearance of his college career after Tuesday morning's practice. "It's been a blessing. It's a great feeling to know you're a starter for a [Southeastern Conference] team, a great team with great players and a great coaching staff.
"The toughest part has been adjusting from high school into college and just waking up every morning and having that mindset every day to get better and try to be the best you can be every day."
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Maggitt has been pretty good from day one for the Vols, as he and fellow freshman A.J. Johnson became the first freshmen to start a season opener for UT since freshman eligibility was reinstated in 1972.
But the process of earning his spot wasn't easy, as Maggitt had to transition quickly from the raw player who had 28 sacks in his last two seasons at Dwyer High School, a perennial producer of BCS-level talent in West Palm Beach, Fla. He said he leaned on his brother, an Iowa State junior, for advice.
"College ball is seven days a week, all day, every day," the Vols' Maggitt said. "If you're not getting treatment or watching film, you're doing classwork or getting a nap or getting a meal. You probably have 45 minutes a day of break time to watch a little TV or something.
"Sunday and Monday you rest up a little bit, but you're always thinking about what's coming next. You don't want to do anything negative to your body. In high school you can probably hang out late Saturday night, late Sunday, go to school Monday and have a successful week. It's a lot different in college: You have to be responsible."
It doesn't hurt to have the skills Maggitt possesses. From the first week of training camp in August, UT's coaches raved about his natural ability and how quickly he picked up the defense. Though he's probably made as many mistakes as he has plays in his brief UT career, head coach Derek Dooley is willing to live with it.
"The one thing he does," Dooley said, "he plays with an incredible energy, he plays with incredible toughness, effort, spirit and he's a big guy. When you add all that up, you can get by with making mistakes. That's what I've said all along.
"Some guys ... they just play. They don't care that they make mistakes, and they play fast. I think Curt's an example of that."
Maggitt credited fellow linebackers Austin Johnson, Daryl Vereen and Herman Lathers with helping him learn defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's schemes. He's also had A.J. Johnson there to go through the trials of starting as freshmen.
The Vols put Maggitt at linebacker almost out of necessity with a thin group returning and Lathers' fractured ankle. His most natural position, though, might be at end, where the Vols like to line him up as a pass-rusher in obvious passing downs.
The former four-star recruit, who had scholarship offers from Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida State and others, said he likes both positions, though rushing the quarterback from the edge might require less pre-snap responsibilities.
"[Linebackers coach Peter Sirmon], that's all we talk about: pre-snap alignment and tackling," Maggitt said. "In high school I played defensive end, and coming to play linebacker in the SEC and starting, that's been a big difference for me."
As he gains more experience, the Vols expect Maggitt to make more of a difference in games. He had three tackles and half a sack against Cincinnati. In his return to his home state, Maggitt had six tackles and half a tackle for loss in UT's loss to Florida.
"There's a few [freshmen] out there every year, and it's just good we got him," Dooley said. "Hopefully he can progress and become the player we expect him to be."