KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Riley Lovingood waltzed into a media scrum Monday morning, looked around and joked, “Usually when you see a long snapper’s name in the media it’s not a good thing. I’m happy to step up here with a smile.”
Take a bow, kid.
Lovingood made one of the defining plays in Tennessee’s wild comeback win over Georgia on Saturday, sprinting down the field and catching Trevor Daniel’s punt over his head at the 6-yard line.
— Brian Mills (@brianmills247) October 2, 2016
The redshirt freshman’s play setup Derek Barnett’s strip-sack for a touchdown, giving the Volunteers their first lead of the game.
Lovingood, whose father Jeff served as the Volunteers team chaplain under Phillip Fulmer, woke up from a morning nap Monday to learn he’d been named the SEC’s Co-Special Teams Player of the Week for his highlight play, saying, “I never dreamed of getting an honor like that.
“To be recognized is something that doesn’t really ever happen for a long snapper. I’m just really appreciative.”
Ironically, Lovingood, a Nashville native who played on the same high school team as tailback Jalen Hurd, initially thought he’d screwed up. He admitted he’d never caught a punt like that before and it wasn’t until Evan Berry started celebrating that he realized he’d made a good play.
“We had never practiced that,” he said.
“That was my first time ever downing a punt. … But I caught it, looked up and I saw Evan Berry just jumping up and down. And then everyone started hitting me, so I was like, ‘Ok. I guess I did a good job right here.’”
Even then, Lovingood wasn’t so sure.
“I didn’t know if (Berry) was going to get mad at me for downing the ball on the (6-yard line) because I didn’t know if he wanted it on the 1. So I was like, ‘Did I mess up?’
“Now that I think about it afterward, I think it did the right play.”
— SEC (@SEC) October 3, 2016