KNOXVILLE — Saturday marks the official beginning of the Lane Kiffin era for the Tennessee football program.
And when the offense takes the field, the first snap will be made by a former walk-on who is literally living his dream.
Cody Sullins, however, is determined not to get caught up in such hoopla as he prepares to make his first collegiate start.
“Yeah, it seems easier now being the middle of the week,” Sullins said Wednesday in a teleconference. “I’m sure I’ll wake up Saturday with the nerves stirring a little more. By the fourth or fifth play of the game, I’ll say the butterflies will settle down. I’ll be fine.”
That even keel approach seems like a front, but apparently it’s the way Sullins and his twin brother, Cory, have gone about their business since joining the program as walk-ons in 2005.
“They were practicing like they were getting ready to play every Saturday, since they’ve been here,” offensive guard Vladimir Richard said Tuesday.
“I’ve been in the No. 2 spot the last couple years, but I’ve always tried to have that focus and preparation,” Cody Sullins said. “One snap, one play and you always could be the next guy called.”
Now he’s the first guy and his brother, Cory, is the backup at center. Not bad for a couple of guys who fielded scholarship offers from Ohio Valley Conference teams coming out of White House High School.
“It doesn’t surprise anyone on the team,” Richard said. “It probably does as far as the media and fans and other people who really never knew too much about the Sullinses. But, this whole time, I was believing in Cody.”
He’s got the folks back home believing, too. The Sullins brothers’ alma mater has been buzzing all week about Cody’s opportunity.
“The exciting thing is they’ve lived their dream,” said Jeff Porter, the football coach at White House. “Both of them turned down scholarships at smaller schools but their dream from day one was they were going to go to the University of Tennessee and hopefully play football.
“It’s inspirational. I hope it’s inspirational to all of our players back here.”
Often, a walk-on makes news just for earning a scholarship. Both Sullins brothers already have accomplished that. Cody earned one last season under Phillip Fulmer. Cory was placed on scholarship this summer by Kiffin.
It won’t be easy for either Sullins. Cody weighs 260 pounds and Cory 270. By contrast, an average Southeastern Conference defensive tackle tips the scales at about 300 pounds. And then there’s Alabama’s Terrence Cody, who outweighs Cody Sullins by nearly 100 pounds.
Richard says any size disadvantage doesn’t matter to the identical twins.
“I’m telling you, Albert Haynesworth would come in here and they would not be afraid to block him,” Richard said.
So how do the Sullins boys compensate for their relative lack of size?
“It’s all technique and leverage,” Cody said. “Take the proper steps and the proper angles, keep that low center of gravity. I don’t really have a problem with that, being just 6-foot-1. Play how you’ve been coached and play the techniques you’ve been taught and they work really well.”
Those techniques come from current Vol coaches like James Cregg and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. But they started back at White House under the tutelage of assistants Jim Grantham and Mark Lamberth.
Coincidentally, Lamberth played his college ball at Western Kentucky — the pending opponent for Cody in his first career start.