Linebacker Herman Lathers is setting himself up to be one of the best stories in college football this season.
The redshirt senior was all set to finish his college eligibility during the 2011 season. However, a broken ankle prior to the season starting ruined those hopes.
Lathers worked throughout the fall to get back for the end of the season, but it ultimately didn’t work out.
Last season was not the only trial that has slowed the Baton Rouge native down. At 15 years old, Lathers had a bout with bone cancer.
Through it all, Lathers remains determined to finish his college career. He returns to Knoxville in 2012 after redshirting last fall.
Currently, Lathers is penciled in as a starting linebacker, either in the middle of a 4-3 defense, or at one of two inside positions in the 3-4.
During the offseason, the linebacker added 15 pounds to his frame to up his weight to 233 pounds. The added weight should make him more of an imposing force anchoring the middle of the defense.
With Lathers joining A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt, the Vols have a very good trio of linebackers. Add Jacques Smith in when the Vols go to the 3-4, and Sal Sunseri shouldn’t have much to worry about from his core in the middle.
While Lathers brings a lot to the field in terms of performance, maybe most importantly he brings leadership to a team that desperately needs it.
By all accounts, this Tennessee team is much more close-knit than the previous squads that struggled. A lot of that is because of the senior’s leadership efforts.
"I've never been around a good football team — a championship team — that didn't always say we just had great team chemistry, we had great leadership, we had tremendous unity," Dooley said.
"I think that, combined with the fact that it was pretty apparent we didn't have what we needed last year from that standpoint, is probably why there's a bigger emphasis on it."
Lathers is a great story on the field for the Vols, but it may be his work off the field that pays the most dividends for Dooley and his team.