KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — LaTroy Lewis has been around awhile.
Tennessee’s fifth-year senior is one of the few holdovers from the doldrum days of the Derek Dooley era, and every now and then, the veteran defensive end will pass along some old war stories to give underclassmen perspective on the Vols current rebuild.
“It is about getting around the younger guys and letting them know where we came from. Where this program came from,” Lewis said, referencing Tennessee going from five wins to seven wins to nine wins over the last three seasons.
“Coach (Bob) Shoop talks about it all the time, a lot of these guys came in and got on third base without swinging, so a lot of it is reminding younger guys we came a long way and we’ve got to keep this thing going.”
Tennessee is the Vegas favorite to win its first SEC East title since 2007. The Vols are ranked in the preseason Top 10 for the first time since 2005.
It wasn’t so long ago Tennessee was a conference bottom-feeder, fading from national relevancy, so Team120’s sole focus this preseason is to “Own It,” with Lewis saying, “We always talk about the brick-by-brick-by-brick, but the bricks have been laid. Now it’s time to keep building. We have a foundation. Now we’re rising up.”
The Vols depth is mostly a new concept to Lewis, as the senior said, “Our coaching staff has a done a tremendous job (rebuilding the roster). That’s the goal for a big-time SEC program is to each year build and build and build. Keep bringing more talent and more speed and we’re definitely headed in the right direction with that.”
Defensive end is one of Tennessee’s deepest positions, with star recruits like Kyle Phillips, Jonathan Kongbo and Darrell Taylor rotating with veterans Derek Barnett, a preseason All-American, Cory Vereen and Lewis. The Vols even added underrated 3-star prospect Mykelle McDaniel to the mix Tuesday.
“I love it. I love it,” Lewis said with a big grin.
“The more talent, the more people with ability, that’s more people that can play. That’s how programs build.”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com