David Holbert, who missed the entire 2007 season with a torn ACL, suffered another significant knee injury 20 minutes into Saturday’s first spring scrimmage. Hustling to catch a tipped pass, he was hit by a defender and fell awkwardly. Holbert lay on the Shields-Watkins Field turf for several minutes before being assisted from the field and taken to UT Medical Center.
Medical privacy laws prevent head coach Phillip Fulmer from commenting on the specific nature of the injury but his somber tone underscored what scrimmage observers already suspected: It’s serious.
“It’s really, really sad for anybody to have to go through anything like that,” Fulmer said following the two-hour workout. “He’s disappointed because he missed the whole year last year. That’s the thing he was saying as he was lying there: ‘How can this happen to me? This has to be a dream.’
“He wants to be out here and help our football team. Quite likely, he won’t be out here for sure this spring. Then we’ll see what happens to the rest of it (preseason and fall). We’ll just pray there’s no serious, serious damage and go from there.”
Holbert, a 6-1, 250-pounder, was a coveted recruit coming out of high school. Rated the No. 2 prospect in the state by The Knoxville News-Sentinel in 2003, he rushed for 900 yards as a junior and 700 as a senior at Brentwood Academy in Nashville.
Stuck behind Cory Anderson at Tennessee, Holbert played sparingly as a backup fullback in 2004, 2005 and 2006. He has just one carry – a no-gain rush vs. Memphis in 2006 – to show for his five years in the program.
Holbert has been a productive receiver, however, catching three passes for 31 yards as a freshman, 2 passes for 30 yards as a sophomore and two for five yards as a junior.
With Holbert sidelined, Tennessee’s fullback corps is reduced to one scholarship player, 6-0, 240-pound sophomore Kevin Cooper of Chattanooga. The Vols also have two walk-on candidates, 6-0, 235-senior Ryan Hill from Kingston and 6-0, 248-pound senior Brett Thomason from Dalton, Ga. Mid-term freshman enrollee Austin Johnson, a 6-2, 242-pounder from Hickory, N.C., played some fullback in high school and could switch over from linebacker to bolster the position.
Observers close to the action thought Holbert suffered a broken leg on Saturday. Fulmer would not confirm this.
“No, he has a knee injury,” the coach said. “That’s all I’m allowed to say right now.”