KNOXVILLE -- For Jared Allen, there's no comparison.
The jump from high-school baseball to college was eye-opening for the Tennessee freshman, who quickly learned he wasn't playing at Polk County High School anymore.
"The transition is just unreal," Allen said Wednesday afternoon on the Volunteers' off day before a three-game season-ending series against Arkansas begins tonight in Knoxville. "I come from a small school, and it was nowhere near as extensive. We didn't even hit [batting practice] before games -- it'd be you go out, you warm up and you play.
"Now you come out, you take 100 or 150 hacks before a game, and it's just a different grind."
Allen admitted he couldn't put into words the jump in talent level in the SEC, which has nine teams in the top 37 of the NCAA's official RPI. After starting 7-8 in league play, the Vols have won just once in their last dozen SEC games. It's not helped first-year coach Dave Serrano's rebuilding job that UT has played every freshman on its roster and relied heavily on some.
"The thing that's been a little unfair to them is that we've relied on them more than just playing," Serrano said. "We've relied on them to come up with the big hit [or] make the big pitch. That's what's been probably the hardest thing for this team is that there wasn't more of the older guys that were stepping up and allowing the freshmen to find their niche and get into the program.
"They had to step in and be contributors right away. That happens sometimes in programs. That's what I think has been unfortunate."
Will Maddox has been a bright spot for the Vols. A former basketball teammate of UT linebacker A.J. Johnson at Gainesville High School in Georgia, the second baseman has started all but one game and served as UT's leadoff hitter since the start of SEC play. He leads the team in batting average, runs scored, hits and stolen bases.
"It was a just new role for me," Maddox said. "I just had to try to find ways to get on base any way possible, whether that be a walk, hit by pitch [or] a single up the middle. I just had to adjust."
Allen and Parker Wormsley, a Knoxville native, have played in 37 games with 41 combined starts. Reliever Conner Stevens has a 3.86 earned-run averaged in 19 appearances, and Robbie Kidd has 20 appearances with seven starts. Former Meigs County standout Jake Rowland has played in 22 games with eight starts, and former Walker Valley pitcher Brandon Zajac has three starts.
"When we got into SEC play, I struggled early and I struggled quite a bit," said Allen, who is batting .184 with 10 RBIs this season. "It was more the mentality in my head what I was going through more than it was the physical aspect. I think more of it was in my head."
It's Serrano's belief that the jump from high school to major college baseball is more difficult than the jump from college to the professional level.
"You look at Will Maddox: we can't ask any more of what that young man has done for us," the coach said. "He's gotten a lot of big two-out RBIs for us. There's been times that we've relied on him in big situations and he hasn't come through. You get disappointed, but then you realize that it might not be his time to be able to do that yet."
The trial by fire could pay more dividends later, though Serrano warned that his freshmen needed to move forward with the mindset of improving tremendously.
"It's been huge for me," Maddox said. "I've learned so much this year, more than I ever thought I could possibly learn. I can take it into the summer and be ready to go next year. I'll be a lot better player because of this year."