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VOL. 39 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 4, 2015

Big Nissan homecoming for Middle Tennessee Vols

By Dave Link

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Defensive end Derek Barnett, a former Brentwood Academy star, had to request extra tickets for family and friends.

-- Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett won’t be in a strange place Saturday when he walks into Nissan Stadium in Nashville for the 2015 season opener against Bowling Green.

In fact, the former Brentwood Academy standout has a special place in his heart for Nissan Stadium, having attended Tennessee Titans games there for years.

“I was a Titans fan when I was younger,” Barnett says. “I grew up a Titans fan. I remember watching Steve McNair play when I was younger.”

This time, Barnett will be on the field with his own cheering section in the stands. He requested more tickets than usual for his homecoming game.

“I’ll get a few extra, probably about seven or eight overall,” Barnett explains. “Just mainly my family and some close friends will come, and people from my high school are coming as well.”

Murfreesboro’s Jauan Jennings has made the jump from quarterback to starting receiver as a freshman.

-- Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

They will get to see how far Barnett has come in his short time in college football. His impact as a freshman last year at UT was immediate and immense.

Barnett set UT true freshman records for tackles for loss (20.5) and sacks (10) while earning All-SEC freshman, All-SEC second team, and several Freshman All-American honors.

Barnett says he expected to be an impact player as a freshman.

“Yes sir,” Barnett explains. “I’m confident in myself, and I work hard, and I trust my training. Coach (Dave) Lawson (strength and conditioning) has prepared us well this summer. I just trust my training and what we do.”

Barnett had offseason shoulder surgery and missed spring practices, but returned full strength in summer conditioning and fall camp.

UT coach Butch Jones says Barnett has maintained the momentum from his 2014 success.

“Derek’s continued to carry it over,” Jones says. “He’s very, very driven, asks a lot of questions. Derek is kind of a quiet young man.

“He’s a quiet competitor, but when he speaks, everybody listens.

“But the effort that I see in practice, the staying after, working on his hands, working on his reduction and coming off the ball, his get-off, the work ethic is there. In terms of what has gotten him to this point – that has not changed. Matter of fact, he’s elevated that.”

Barnett won’t be the only Vol player enjoying a homecoming. UT has six players from Nashville, and a total of 17 players from the Midstate.

Others include freshman receiver Vincent Perry (Hillsboro High), freshman defensive end Kyle Phillips (Hillsboro High) and sophomore offensive lineman Jashon Robertson (Montgomery Bell Academy). Robertson was on the All-SEC freshman team and a couple of freshman All-American teams.

“I’m excited for all the guys from Nashville,” Barnett adds. “I’m excited for my team. We’re just excited to play ball.”

Two true freshmen from Murfreesboro should see action Saturday: wide receiver Jauan Jennings (Blackman High) is slotted to start, and right offensive guard Jack Jones (Oakland High) is No. 2 on the depth chart for Bowling Green.

There are two Vols from Hendersonville’s Beech High: sophomore tailback Jalen Hurd, the Vols’ leading rusher in 2014, and freshman long snapper Riley Lovingood.

Others from the Midstate include starting linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Clarksville Northeast High), starting receiver Josh Malone (Station Camp High in Gallatin), punter Nate Renfro (Brentwood Academy), punter Trevor Daniel (Dickson High), kicker Aaron Medley (Lewisburg’s Marshall County High) and defensive back Justin Martin (Nashville Overton High).

“We’re all excited, especially the freshmen,” Barnett says. “I remember my first game last year. I was pumped up. We’re all excited to play football.”

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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