KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It’s a whole new game for Tennessee linebacker Cortez McDowell.
Lighter, faster and more focused, McDowell is making the most of every day on the practice field.
“It’s a different mindset when I come in to work every day,” McDowell said. “I’m down to 228 pounds, where I feel better than I used to feel.”
McDowell gained strength while dropping those 10 pounds, too, and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has noticed the difference in his weakside linebacker.
“Just his maturity and experience,” Shoop said. “Cortez looks more confident, and he’s stronger and in better shape.”
McDowell, a senior from Locust Grove, Ga., came up big with 9 tackles in the opener against Appalachian State after Jalen Reeves-Maybin was ejected for targeting in the first quarter.
McDowelll stepped up in wins over Florida and Georgia, too, delivering 6 tackles and 2 tackles for loss in the win over the Gators, and 6 more stops in the win over the Bulldogs.
Injuries kept McDowell sidelined in the loss to South Carolina.
McDowell didn’t appear back at full strength until the bowl win over Nebraska, when he delivered 7 tackles.
“But I didn’t feel explosive enough, felt a little sluggish,” McDowell said, explaining his decision to lose weight in the offseason. “It was just waking up daily and feeling that sluggish feeling.”
Then came new strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson, and things changed quickly for McDowell and his teammates.
“From Day 1, he brought the energy for us, something we were missing,” McDowell said. “He’s been in the NFL a lengthy time, so he brought that energy he had with those guys to us, and everybody gravitated to him and the whole strength staff.
“Coach Rock brings in a different dynamic and different element for us to keep pushing.”
McDowell said he changed his diet and sleep patterns.
“I used to get 4-5 hours of sleep, now I get 7-to-9 hours,” McDowell said. “I’m eating better, hydrating a lot more with water in my diet.
“I’m feeling great.”