Vols defensive tackle Paul Bain gives lesson in persistence [photos]

Vols defensive tackle Paul Bain gives lesson in persistence [photos]

September 7th, 2017 by David Cobb in Sports - College

Tennessee defensive lineman Paul Bain takes the field before the start of Monday night's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Georgia Tech at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Bain made a crucial play in the Vols' 42-41 double-overtime win.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

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POWDER SPRINGS, Ga. — Above the entrance to the football stadium at Hillgrove High School, a metal sign stretches from one brick-and-concrete post to another with the words, "Welcome to the Grove."

Over the years, the Grove has welcomed some elite high school football prospects.

In the Atlanta metropolitan area, where Hillgrove coach Phillip Ironside said, "everybody is Maryville" in reference to the eastern Tennessee high school powerhouse, talent is anything but scarce.

Hillgrove, which opened in 2006, has produced Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake and New York Giants tight end Evan Engram in recent years, just to name two famous Hawks.

And Paul Bain. Don't forget about Paul Bain.

This is the entrance to the football field at Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, Ga., where Tennessee walk-on defensive tackle Paul Bain attended. Bain was not heavily recruited, but he came to Tennessee in 2015 and made key field goal block in Monday night's win over Georgia Tech.

This is the entrance to the football field...

Photo by David Cobb /Times Free Press.

He hasn't appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated like Drake, and he probably won't be a first-round draft pick like Engram, but the Tennessee redshirt junior is now a star in his own right.

The reserve defensive tackle etched his name in Volunteers folklore Monday night when he blocked a Georgia Tech field-goal attempt at the end of the fourth quarter, sending the game to overtime and helping Tennessee escape with a 42-41 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

His stardom quickly grew, with Vols coach Butch Jones noting in his postgame press conference that the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Bain is a walk-on player who works two part-time jobs to help pay for tuition.

"I think it's a great story," Jones reiterated Wednesday.

It's a story that falls in line with what Hillgrove coaches know about Bain, a player they remember as both jovial and quirky, with one tendency sticking out above the rest.

"He won't take no for an answer," Ironside said Tuesday as he washed footballs in the Hillgrove football office.

Ironside, who coached Bain from 2010 to '13, was in his kitchen Monday night when he heard his wife and son scream with joy as ESPN play-by-play announcer Rece Davis called Bain's name after the game-saving block.

"You can say, 'Paul, you're probably not good enough to do this,' and he's going to prove you wrong," Ironside said. "He keeps proving people wrong."

Hillgrove defensive line coach Joe Gerda remembered Bain as a high-energy player surrounded by stars on the team's 2013 team that had 14 Hawks sign to play college football. Bain played defensive line alongside Bradley Chubb, who is in his senior season as a defensive end at North Carolina State and regarded as a likely selection in the early rounds of next year's NFL draft.

Bain also played next to Jaylan Reid, who is the starting nose tackle at Furman.

"He just had some really good players playing in front of him," Gerda said. "He was always kind of a rotation player that would get important plays and play a lot. But he was never the guy."

Bain was not highly recruited out of Hillgrove and signed with Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tenn. Hillgrove's coaches agreed the Division II school seemed like a good fit for Bain — the type of place where he could compete for playing time.

But after redshirting as a freshman in 2014, Bain decided he wanted to compete for playing time on college football's biggest stage, Division I, and do so at Tennessee.

"I just remember him coming here with his family and wanting to be a part of our football program," Jones said.

Tennessee accepted Bain as a walk-on, and he spent 2015 on the practice squad before earning playing time as a reserve defensive tackle in two games last season.

Bain, a communication studies major, has worked on a farm and at Champs Sports to help his parents pay his tuition, he said Monday night.

The season opener was his first game playing on Tennessee's field-goal defense team. He pushed forward as the ball was snapped and raised his right hand to block a 36-yard attempt by Shawn Davis that would have won the game.

"It meant everything to me," Bain said. "It just showed me that God is there, and he blessed me. I just hope for many more to come after this."

Bain said despite his newfound celebrity status, he is expecting to be treated "the exact same" by his professors and classmates on campus.

"I'm still Paul Bain from Champs," he said. "So I'm expecting to walk into my life tomorrow and everything go right back to normal."

But as his high school coaches can attest, "normal" for Bain includes an extra dose of persistence.

"His is the feel-good story, because he wasn't ever a superstar or really recruited or anything," Ironside said. "He made his way. We didn't have a whole lot to do with it. We've had as big as Alabama and a guy on the cover of Sports Illustrated to a first-round draft pick this year with Evan Engram.

"It's neat and it's different. You take pride in it because you coached them. And the ones who are really good kids, you delight in it, because he's being blessed for his hard work and perseverance. That makes it neat."

Ironside has seen plenty of his former players make an impact on major college football games and even in the NFL. He admits he did not envision Bain becoming one of them.

"I thought he was nuts when he said he was going to UT, and he's proved us all wrong," Ironside said.

Added Gerda: "Yes, he has. That is for sure. He has definitely proved me wrong."

Ironside responded, summing up his former player with two words: "Strong will."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com.

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