Tennessee Vols' Maggitt ready for 'emotional' return

Tennessee Vols' Maggitt ready for 'emotional' return

August 28th, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt listens to amplified music while warming up during the NCAA college football team's first spring practice of the season, Friday, March 7, 2014.

Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt listens to amplified music...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - The smaller number is the one Curt Maggitt's mind this week.

It's been a long, long time since the Tennessee junior played a snap in a game for the Volunteers.

The defensive end/linebacker, who missed the entire 2013 season after a slow recovery from a torn ACL in his knee delayed his return, knows he'll play again in just a matter of days when Tennessee opens the 2014 season against Utah State at Neyland Stadium on Sunday night.

The last snap Maggitt played came 656 days ago in the fourth quarter of Tennessee's four-overtime loss to Missouri in November of 2012.

"Somebody told me the number like a month ago," he said with a smile following Wednesday's practice. "It's something crazy. I forgot. I know it's four days from now, so that's the most important thing.

"It's going to be emotional for sure," he added. "It's been a real long time since I've been out there and ran through the 'T' and actually suited up. I guess I'm no longer a cheerleader. I've got to go out there and do it, so it's going to be good."

Just how well the 6-foot-3, 251-pound Florida native will play against a potent Aggies offense remains to be seen. Maggitt missed a chunk of the Vols' preseason training camp with an ankle injury and just recently returned to practice. There's also the rust he'll have to shake off from his long layoff.

Those factors don't diminish how glad his teammates will be to have him back on the field.

"It's definitely an energy boost to us that we got our leader back," safety Brian Randolph said.

"He's been his normal self [this week]. He's coming out with a lot of good leadership and a lot of energy. You can tell the D-line's definitely focused with him in there."

Against Utah State's spread offense, Maggitt figures to play more as a defensive end than linebacker, where he was listed in a 4-3 look in the depth chart Tennessee released on Monday and where he played the first two seasons of his career.

Maggitt himself dubbed his position a "hybrid" spot -- "It sounds cool," was his reasoning -- that Tennessee's coaches best fit his skills and the defense's needs.

"All those [coaches] have confidence in me," Maggitt said. "I understand the game at a pretty high rate. I understand defensive end and I understand linebacker, and if I have any questions, they're there to answer it.

"I stay late here at night just talking film and talking ball with Coach Stewart [defensive graduate assistant and former Cincinnati defensive end Walter Stewart]. I'm comfortable with the position I'm at."

In 20 career appearances in 2011 and 2012, Maggitt registered 86 tackles, 10.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks, but he's always been hampered by injuries that have sapped the playmaking ability he has shown when healthy.

His absence hasn't stopped him from becoming respected and revered by his teammates as a leader, and his leadership role takes on even more importance given all of the Vols' youth this season.

"It's good to have him back," defensive tackle Jordan Williams said. "He brings a lot of energy to the table and a lot of experience. He's a real vocal guy, and it's definitely good for the younger guys to see him out there.

"He's eager to get back out there."

Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Monday that Maggitt's leadership attributes and calm demeanor will be "very beneficial" to the Vols' defense, and he said Tuesday he won't have to discuss handling the emotions and adrenaline of his return with Maggitt this week.

"Curt understands," Jones said. "He's mature beyond his years. We haven't had to have that talk. He's a very steady individual."

That steadiness will get a test when he steps on the field for the first time in a long time.

"I missed it a lot," Maggitt said. "We have some loyal fans and passionate fans. I'm excited to go out there and give them a show. I'm passionate about the game, and I'm ready to play again. I know it's going to be a packed house, so I'm excited.

"It's like a homecoming."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.