With the likes of running back Jalen Hurd (Beech) and wide receivers Josh Malone (Station Camp) and Vic Wharton (Independence) — all freshmen — the expectation is that Middle Tennessee high schools will have a strong presence on the University of Tennessee’s offense this fall.
That’s not to say this area won’t be heard from on the defense as well.
Another freshman who has started to generate buzz a week into fall camp is Derek Barnett, a defensive end out of Brentwood Academy.
"Of all the young individuals right now on the defensive front, Derek Barnett is the one who is really standing out right now,” coach Butch Jones said after Saturday's scrimmage, according to UT’s athletics website. “Derek Barnett is an individual who continues to show up. He has worked himself into a role in this football team.”
A two-time TSSAA Mr. Football award winner, Barnett is 6-foot-3, 267 pounds and is the only player officially listed on the roster as a ‘defensive end.’ There are 16 others all listed as ‘defensive lineman,’ which suggests coaches knew exactly what they wanted to do with Barnett the moment he signed with the Volunteers.
“The boy wonder has a long ways to go, but he is really progressing,” defensive line coach Steve Stripling said. “He's physical. I think he is playing with some maturity right now. He is showing up for a freshman. I've been very pleased with his progress.
“He's a freshman. Obviously, he is making mistakes but he showed the physicalness and maturity that is uncommon in a freshmen.”
Since UT lost all of its 2013 defensive line starters, the opportunity is there to play a big role — even for a freshman.
“Derek is a tremendous talent,” defensive coordinator John Jancek said. “He's strong, he's quick, he can change direction and is in great shape, in great physical condition. … You can throw a lot at Derek. He's a guy that can pick it all up and have it make sense. He's doing a great job.”
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS