Reserve cornerback Brent Vinson and reserve defensive tackle Donald Langley will not accompany the Vols on the flight to Pasadena for Monday night's season opener vs. UCLA because they violated UT's class-attendance policy. The policy, which stems from the SEC office, decrees that any student-athlete guilty of three unexcused absences must sit out 10 percent of his team's season.
Vinson, a 6-0, 190-pound sophomore, started Tennessee's last 10 games of 2007 and finished second on the team in pass breakups. He found himself stuck behind DeAngelo Willingham, Dennis Rogan, Antonio Gaines and Marsalous Johnson in 2008 preseason drills, however.
Langley, a 6-2, 285-pound redshirt freshman, was expected to be a key reserve at tackle, where Tennessee is perilously thin behind Dan Williams, Demonte Bolden and Walter Fisher. With Langley suspended and Chase Nelson sidelined by a season-ending knee injury, sophomore Victor Thomas and junior Andre Mathis are the only scholarship players behind Williams, Bolden and Fisher.
"The concern is the sheer numbers," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We'd like to play five tackles, but we can play a ball game with three guys."
Defensive coordinator John Chavis was not quite so philosophical when asked about the suspensions of Vinson and Langley.
“It's one of those things that shouldn't have happened but it did happen,” he said. “We are where we are. They're paying the price and, certainly, our football team will pay the price with them.
“But we're going to do things the right way at Tennessee. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it's going to continue to be.”
Asked how frustrating it is to lose two key reserves so close to the opener, Chavis shrugged.
“You can't get frustrated,” he said. “Our football players are no different (than other students), other than they're held to a higher standard. I guarantee you that 75 percent of the students wouldn't be in the first game, either, if they were held to the same restrictions. That's just the way it is.”
Incredibly, one member of the media corps asked if Chavis hoped the players learned from this experience. The coach's response was understandably stern.
“Well, yeah. That's obvious," he said. "Gee, you don't want to make the same mistakes over and over again. That's what life's all about.
“I made a bunch of mistakes growing up. I'm probably the only one standing around here that ever made a mistake. Nobody else ever made one but me. I made a bunch of 'em growing up. I hope I learned from them. I hope they learned from theirs.”