Vols getting their energy boost from a most unlikely position

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee football coaches have been thrilled with the energy that senior right guard Javontez Spraggins has been bringing to preseason practices.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee football coaches have been thrilled with the energy that senior right guard Javontez Spraggins has been bringing to preseason practices.

The energy source on a football roster often can be a dynamic quarterback, a punishing running back, a speedy receiver or a menacing linebacker.

A right guard?

It's an unlikely position from which to provide an emotional punch, but Tennessee senior Javontez Spraggins appears to be doing just that. The constantly amped up 6-foot-3, 325-pounder from East St. Louis, Illinois, has started 25 games the past two seasons and allowed just two sacks last year in 891 offensive snaps.

"He's got great energy every single day," third-year coach Josh Heupel said after Thursday's first preseason scrimmage. "He's the same competitor, and that's a part of why he's climbed personally. He's got great influence on the offensive line unit, on the offense in general and really on the whole football team.

"He's a huge part of the energy that we have at practice every single day."

The Volunteers had a day off Friday and will resume morning workouts Saturday and Sunday.

Spraggins became a popular player among Vols fans during last year's 11-2 run to an Orange Bowl championship, earning the nickname "The Zookeeper" after parading around the fields with stuffed animals of the opposing teams that Tennessee had just conquered. Yet his impressive play — he was in for all 76 offensive snaps during the thrilling 52-49 upset of Alabama without allowing a sack or a quarterback hit — also earned him a spot last month on the Southeastern Conference's preseason third-team offense.

"Sprags has stepped up big time," fifth-year senior tackle Dayne Davis said. "He's always going to be the energy man. He's going to bring it day in and day out, and he's really stepped up as a leader. I love playing beside that guy."

Said Spraggins: "I wake up every day with the urge to be better. It's not about waking up and having to go do something. It's about waking up and making something happen."

With senior center Cooper Mays sidelined for the next couple of weeks, Spraggins and his energy could be relied upon even more as the Vols approach their Sept. 2 opener against Virginia inside Nashville's Nissan Stadium. Tennessee is already having to replace right tackle Darnell Wright and left guard Jerome Carvin from a season ago, but the Vols have more depth under Heupel and third-year offensive line coach Glen Elarbee.

Spraggins has played 1,843 career snaps for the Vols, including a whopping 111 in the Music City Bowl that concluded his 2021 season, and Elarbee believes his best snaps are yet to come.

"If anybody will have the biggest jump in their tape from the spring, I'm hoping it's going to be Sprags," Elarbee said. "He's just been unbelievable in the spring, the summer and the fall, from his protection to the knowledge of the game to the leadership.

"There has been such a growth out of him, and the energy is nonstop. He gets it going every day, and it's not a fake, 'Rah, rah.' He is out there competing."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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