KNOXVILLE -- Jerod Mayo is just like the rest of the other former University of Tennessee football players in the NFL.
When he sees former Volunteers doing well as pros, he puffs his own chest out a little bit.
"That sense of pride always comes out when you see Vols doing good in the NFL," the New England linebacker said on a conference call this past week.
"That pride factor really gets boosted. You're proud to wear that orange and white around the locker room and things like that. That big orange 'T' is really doing well."
Mayo is a big reason it's doing well. In just his third season after being drafted 10th overall by the Patriots in 2008, he led the NFL in tackles, earned his first Pro Bowl selection and helped New England take the top AFC seed in the playoffs. The Patriots host the New York Jets today.
"I feel honored to have made the Pro Bowl," Mayo said. "I do have a lot to be grateful for, first of all [to] God and then to these defensive linemen that I have in front of me. They let me roam around and make a lot of tackles, make a lot of plays."
Mayo credited John Chavis, his UT linebackers coach and defensive coordinator who's now at LSU.
"He ran a pro-style defense, and we had all the adjustments, all the different checks and calls," Mayo said. "Coach Chavis really prepared me to be an NFL player. When I came here, even though the playbook was a little bigger, some of the guys I came in with, I saw them struggle a little more as far as scheme is concerned.
"But Coach Chavis does an excellent job preparing guys, getting them ready for schemes, for the plays, and also just being an overall good defensive player. He's all about fundamentals, all about basics. I owe a lot to Coach Chavis and everything he taught me at Tennessee."
Mayo owes himself plenty of credit for his success, according to at least one of his former teammates.
"I knew he was good, but I knew from a mental standpoint that he was going to be good," said former Vols receiver Jayson Swain, who played three seasons with Mayo.
"He was always coming in, doing extra reps, extra weights, always working on his skills. You rarely saw him out partying," Swain added. "[And] if he was out, he'd come out for a little bit and go back in.
"He treated college as four years of business school, and that's why he was the 10th pick, that's why he was rookie of the year and that's why he leads that defense and did it at a young age. He prepared for it for four years at Tennessee."
Swain, who now hosts a radio show in Knoxville, recalled meeting Mayo on a recruiting visit. In a crowded bar filled with a group of recruits and players, a mellow Mayo sat down with Swain and talked football.
"Usually when you visit, you've got recruits and they're in a college atmosphere and they're excited, partying and having fun," Swain said. "Jerod wasn't like that. It was the first conversation I had like that since I was hosting high school recruits."
Mayo left UT after his breakout 2007 season, when the All-SEC selection helped the Vols to an SEC East title and 10 wins. He was the NFL's defensive rookie of the year in 2008 and bounced back from a knee injury in the 2009 season opener to the Pro Bowl this year. Mayo's businesslike approach to football made him a perfect fit for New England coach Bill Belichick.
"I always thought he was one of those military-style [coaches] -- everything has to be his way or no way," Mayo said. "It's really not that way. He's been very hands-on with the defense this year. He listens to our concerns and goes from there. He makes his decisions based on that.
"He's a great motivator; most people don't know that. After one of his speeches, you'll be ready to run through a brick wall for him."
Mayo said he still stays in touch with his former UT roommates: Texans tailback Arian Foster, Broncos linebacker Robert Ayers and Steelers offensive tackle Ramon Foster.
He hasn't met first-year UT coach Derek Dooley but liked what he watched from the Vols this year.
"[Dooley] did a good job as far as using what he had his first year there," Mayo said. "Felt like we got cheated out of a couple games. I'm not going to get into that, but you know what games I'm talking about. Hopefully they can continue the turnaround next year."
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