KNOXVILLE — With Tennessee's offense struggling to get into the end zone on a regular basis this season, Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt has had to rely time and time again on junior kicker Brent Cimaglia to put points on the scoreboard.
Time and time again, Cimaglia has responded.
Pretty good for a kid who was once told he wasn't good enough.
"My seventh grade year I kicked for half of the season, but I was told to quit by my head coach because I wasn't going to be good enough to kick in college," Cimaglia said Tuesday.
Cimaglia actually stopped playing sports altogether, only to pick football back up a year later.
"As a young kid that kind of hurt, so I was done for a good bit," he said.
Results show that not only has Cimaglia been good for the Vols, he has been the team's most consistent offensive threat this season. He's 18-of-20 on field-goal attempts — with a long of 53 yards in last Saturday's home win against the University of Alabama at Birmingham — and has made all 24 extra points.
His 78 points have accounted for 35% of the Vols' scoring this season, the biggest share for a Southeastern Conference kicker in 2019.
Cimaglia has been known for his reactions after making long field goals, but Pruitt has been equally impressed by the kicker's demeanor after misses, though those have been rare. In his Vols career, Cimaglia is 36-for-46 on field-goal attempts, with his notable misses including a 51-yard attempt at Florida in 2017.
"If he misses one, he jumps up there and wants to hit another one, and he doesn't go and try to hide somewhere," Pruitt said last Saturday night. "He wants to get up there and do it again. I think he has a really good makeup about him."
Pruitt also called Cimaglia a great competitor and suggested the 6-foot, 210-pounder could possibly play middle linebacker due to his athleticism.
"I don't know what else he played besides kicker before he got here," said Pruitt, who took over in December 2017. "He was probably a soccer player, but he might've been a defensive player. I don't know — the way he acts, he gets out there and competes his tail off, and I'm glad we've got him."
Cimaglia did play soccer in high school as a goalkeeper at Nashville's Page, but he has made his name as one of the best kickers — if not the best — currently in the SEC. His success rate of 90% on field-goal attempts and his number of field goals made both rank first in the league this year.
He still remains driven by the slight of his middle school football coach, though, and lets that motivation and emotion pour out on the field after every made kick.
"You see most kickers and they're kind of quiet. Me, I'm different," Cimaglia said. "I'm born different and I probably got it from my dad, who's very competitive in anything he does. I'll go out there and I'll be very competitive, never back down."