KNOXVILLE — The clock is ticking for Dylan Wiesman, with his final football game in a Tennessee uniform just eight days away.
The team's only senior offensive lineman hopes his imprint on the Volunteers outlasts his playing career, which ends next Friday against Nebraska in the Music City Bowl.
"It's our last game," Wiesman said. "Coming in here, my class, we came in here and wanted to turn the program around. We feel like we've done that, and we want to leave here making an example of saying, 'Hey, we've done this and this is where we're going to go.' If we win this game, it's momentum going into next year, so it's huge for us to get this win."
A two-year starter at center and guard, Wiesman built his reputation with the Vols on his toughness and nastiness. Often he played with the kind of disposition coaches want in an offensive lineman. His physicality was a key part of Tennessee's offense last season, when the Vols nearly eclipsed the 3,000-yard rushing mark for the second time in program history.
This season Tennessee overcame a slow start to average more than 200 rushing yards per game and more than 5 yards per carry despite being without Wiesman three games as he dealt with two injuries.
"I love his toughness," offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. "Every day, every practice he just brings it and brings it and brings it. It's a mentality with him. You've got to have that at all positions, but you've got to have in the offensive line so that those young guys will then pick up on it and follow him. He gets after guys if they're not, and you have to be like that as a leader. If you're not setting the tone, you can't lead that way. He sets the tone in the offensive line every practice and every game. That makes our whole group tougher."
Wiesman compiled a 33-4 record as a three-year starter at Cincinnati's Colerain High School, and he attributes his background to helping him develop the style he utilized with the Vols.
"I guess with a mentality and with effort," he said. "That's kind of just the way I was raised. My dad was always like, 'You may not always be the biggest or strongest, but always give the best effort and don't let little things keep you down.' That's kind of how my high school was, too. You're not going to be the biggest or fastest, but you can give the most effort. That's really like a mental thing, and that's where that mental toughness comes from."
Wiesman's toughness actually caused him to miss the Alabama game.
At Texas A&M in October, he hustled downfield as quarterback Josh Dobbs, one of his roommates, broke a long run to inside the 10-yard line. As multiple defenders closed in on Dobbs, Wiesman threw himself into the point of attack. His helmet popped off, and he was clearly dazed as he left the field and sat on the bench with a towel covering his head.
He missed the final two games of the regular season after spraining his ankle against Kentucky.
"Dylan, that's my brother," guard Jashon Robertson said. "I respect him to death. I look up to him. I've looked up to him since I got here as a guy who's tough, working his butt off with his conditioning, lifting or whatever it is. Everybody knows he's tough as nails. We've probably all seen the clip with A&M of him diving out in front of Dobbs and taking a hit off him. That just speaks volumes to the type of guy he is day in and day out."
Wiesman, who has completed his degree in kinesiology, said he hopes to be remembered for his toughness and being a loyal teammate.
"Dylan Wiesman is a tough individual, not just from a physical toughness (standpoint) but from a mental standpoint as well," Vols coach Butch Jones said. "He plays through the aches and pains of playing offensive line. You never know that he's playing through those aches and his pains. It get backs to the same thing as Josh Dobbs: consistency.
"He's there, he's reliable, he's accountable. He's everything that we want in our football program — college graduate, everything that goes into it, a great representative of our program. His staple is his toughness, both mentally and physically."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.