Dallas going 'home'

Officially, Tennessee's football players will observe homecoming Nov. 13, when the Vols host Ole Miss. Unofficially, one player will observe homecoming this Saturday against LSU.

That would be sophomore Dallas Thomas, who grew up in Baton Rouge and visited Tiger Stadium often during his teens.

"I was maybe a 20-minute drive from there, not too long," he recalled this week. "I went to a lot of games growing up and when I was getting recruited by them. I guess you could say I was an LSU fan because it was in my home town."

Thomas, a 6-5, 295-pounder who starts at left offensive tackle, recalls that the Tigers "recruited me pretty tough" during his days at Scotlandville High School.

As a senior, however, Thomas found himself favoring Tennessee.

"I felt I had a better chance to play here faster than there," he said. "It was just to get on the field and all of that."

He heard very little from the Tigers thereafter.

"I guess they found out I was coming here," he said, "and they just backed off."

Because Baton Rouge is 600 miles from Knoxville, Thomas hasn't been "home" since May. Naturally, he's excited about the opportunity to visit with his family members and have them see him play in person.

"I'll have good little bit of family there," he said. "Most of all I'm happy just to go home and see my family. That's all I really want. I barely get to see my family because I'm always up here."

Thomas is one of five Vols from Louisiana. The others are safeties Janzen Jackson (Lake Charles) and Prentiss Waggner (Clinton), linebacker Herman Lathers (Baton Rouge) and guard Jarrod Shaw (Lafayette).

"We're like, 'Man, I can't wait to go down there, play in the stadium with all the hype,'" Thomas said. "But, most of all, we're just excited to see our families because they'll get to see us play in front of them. They might not get to travel up here much because of the distance."

Based on the games he attended as a teenager, Thomas described the atmosphere at Tiger Stadium as "hectic, loud, crazy." The decibel level can be a problem when visiting teams are trying to communicate but Thomas says the Vols are ready.

"As soon as the center calls something, they (guard) will echo the call to me," he said. "Or if I see something I'll echo it inside."

Oddly enough, the Vol aide who recruited Thomas, John Chavis, is now the defensive coordinator for LSU. Chavis is known for bringing a lot of pressure on opposing offenses via blitzes, stunts, etc., so Tennessee's offensive line faces a busy afternoon on Saturday.

"We've got a pretty big test ahead of us," Thomas conceded, "but I feel Coach (Harry) Hiestand is going to have us ready for whatever type of defensive front they put up against us."

Certainly, the blockers must play better than they did last weekend vs. UAB, when Tennessee surrendered five sacks and managed just 42 rushing yards. That took some of the shine off of a 32-29 Vol victory.

"The mood is that we all know we played bad," Thomas said. "We want to go back to the basics, like making the proper steps. Back to 'Is my alignment right? Is my stance good?' We really feel we could've played much better, so we're going to step it up a lot this weekend."

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