'It blew my mind'

Some college football prospects are determined to fulfill the term "student-athlete." At least one of these spent Saturday and Sunday touring the University of Tennessee campus.

That would be Mack Crowder, a rugged center prospect from Tennessee High of Bristol. Crowder, who committed to Tennessee last July, made his official visit to the UT campus over the weekend and was blown away by the academic support system available to Vol athletes.

Crowder admittedly focused primarily on the football facilities during the "eight or nine" unofficial visits he had made previously. This time he took an in-depth look at the academic opportunities available to him, and he liked what he saw.

"Really, the highlight of the visit had to be the classrooms," he said. "I'd pretty much seen everything else. They just showed it to me in more detail. I had no idea they had that much technology in the classrooms. They had technology to videotape the classrooms. I was very, very impressed with the technology. It blew my mind how much stuff they have set up to help us out."

Crowder described his overall visit as "fantastic," adding that UT officials "had everything set up for us, everything taken care of. They pretty much spoiled us. They fed us great, and we got to see everything we needed to see."

Because he wants to be the best football player and the best student he can be, Crowder was pleased that his weekend tour of campus featured a heavy emphasis on academics.

"I got to meet some of the academic people I might be dealing with," he said. "And I got to finally meet (strength) coach (Bennie) Wylie."

At 6-4 and 270 pounds, Crowder is a tad small for a Southeastern Conference center. After chatting with Wylie, however, the recruit thinks he may be plenty big to play the position.

"That's one of the things Coach Wylie and I talked about," Crowder said. "He said if I need to put on weight I'll definitely put on weight. But if I get to Tennessee and I'm playing well at 270, I won't need to put on weight. He said that one of the best centers in the NFL plays at 255."

Freshman James Stone started Tennessee's final four regular-season games at center, and played well. Asked if he could move over and play guard in order to get on the field quicker, Crowder responded affirmatively.

"I'm definitely going in as a center," he said, "but I'll play any position they want me to play."

Crowder couldn't recall how he graded out as a blocker for his high school team this fall but said he recorded more "pancake blocks" than he had as a junior and won praise from the Vikings' coaching staff.

"They said that I was one of the hardest workers they'd seen come through Tennessee High," he said. "I just kept improving."

A long-time Vol fan, Crowder committed publicly to Tennessee on July 29, then reaffirmed his choice virtually every Saturday this fall.

"I went to pretty much all of the home games this year," he said.

Given his fondness for Tennessee football and academics, it isn't surprising that Crowder plans to enroll early at the Knoxville campus.

"I'm definitely enrolling in January," he said. "I'll be there for workouts and spring ball."

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