Waggner wows his coach

Waggner wows his coach

The most spectacular hit AND the most spectacular interception of Saturday's scrimmage were made by the same Tennessee safety ... and, no, his name wasn't Eric Berry.

The player in question was Prentiss Waggner, a 6-2 177-pound redshirt freshman from Clinton, La., who has a world of potential that he appears ready to unleash.

Waggner belted tailback Tauren Poole out of bounds on one play with a thunderous lick virtually identical to the one Berry landed on Knowshon Moreno that put the superstar tailback out of the UT-Georgia game last fall. The shoulder pads-to-shoulder pads blow sent Poole flying out of bounds as if he'd been struck by a cannon ball.

Waggner's interception was equally eye-catching. Reacting quickly to a B. J. Coleman pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, Waggner picked off the deflection and raced 60 yards up the East sideline at Haslam Field for a touchdown.

Several dozen media and invited guests attending the scrimmage clearly were impressed by Waggner's spectacular performance. So was Tennessee secondary coach Willie Mack Garza.

"He's an unbelievable football player," Garza said. "He's probably made the most progress (of any Vol defensive back) from Day One to the practice today. He really, really did an unbelievable job out there."

Apparently realizing his praise of Waggner might be a little over the top, Garza elected to qualify his comments a bit. But only a little bit.

"You never know for sure until you see the film," the Vol aide said. "It's never as good or as bad as you think; it's somewhere in between. But he stood out to me – big hits, big interceptions, just big plays overall. He's a pleasant surprise. He's definitely going to be a player for us, I think."

Waggner exhibited tremendous potential as a true freshman in preseason scrimmages last August. Since Tennessee featured perhaps the finest pair of safeties in college football – Berry and Demetrice Morley – the Vol staff decided to redshirt him, rather than squander a year of his eligibility as a little-used reserve.

Even with Berry and Morley coming back for another year, Waggner appears ready to join the safety rotation in 2009. He's improving each time he takes the practice field.

"Now he's getting more comfortable with the defense – the package, what our expectations are – and he's starting to shine now," Garza said. "He's starting to flourish."

A consensus All-American as a sophomore last fall, Berry is a lock to start at strong safety this fall. Waggner could put some real heat on the up-and-down Morley at free safety, however.

"No doubt. No doubt," Garza said. "He (Waggner) is a great competitor, and he's competing for a spot. Everybody is, though. This is an evaluation time. We're trying to find the best four or five players to put out there in the secondary."

If he continues to shine the way he did in Saturday's scrimmage, Prentiss Waggner will be one of those five.

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