KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee safety Micah Abernathy continues to aim high, and why not?
The sophomore from Greater Atlanta Christian School has the look of a starter in the Vols’ secondary, lining up at safety alongside Todd Kelly Jr. and with an apparent edge over true freshman Nigel Warrior.
First-year Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has showered praise on the 6-foot, 195-pound Abernathy throughout fall camp.
“The guy that’s played the best and most consistent the first 10 practices or wherever we are is Micah Abernathy,” Shoop said last week. “I think that guy’s a real legit player. He’s an even better person, he’s an ultimate teammate, he’s unselfish, he practices hard, he practices the right way, he’s focused, he’s intense, he’s intelligent.
“I think he’s a guy who’s going to have a big year.”
Abernathy played in 12 games as a true freshman last season, making nine tackles with two pass break-ups. He also had four kick returns for 69 yards.
Abernathy, a 4-star prospect who had an impressive list of offers — Alabama, Oregon, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Southern Cal among them — said last year was a matter of accomplishing his goals.
“Coming into the season every freshman has certain goals they want to meet, and I met mine,” said Abernathy, who played nickleback for the Vols in 2015. “Mainly, just to get on the field and contribute to the team in any way possible.”
The Vols have much larger goals this season than a year ago, as they’ll look to live up to the preseason hype as SEC East Division favorites and win what would be the program’s first SEC Championship Game since 1998.
Abernathy has been a part of a winner before. He was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2014, rushing for 1,526 yards and 20 touchdowns in leading his school to the Class AA state championship game in the Georgia Dome.
A two-way player in high school, Abernathy now knows two positions at Tennessee, the nickel and safety.
It’s been a learning process, Abernathy admits.
“You have to know what the defensive line and linebackers do more at safety than at nickel,” Abernathy said. “So that’s something I’ve been learning.”
Abernathy is calm and confident when it comes to being able to handle a starting position in the Vols secondary.
“I wouldn’t say it’s pressure; it’s knowing what you have to do when you walk on the field,” Abernathy explained. “Pressure is when there’s something you’re not prepared for, and I would say everyone on our team is prepared.”
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and is based in Knoxville.