Props to Propst

There's an old saying that a quality linebacker should be "mobile, agile and hostile."

Given how much more complex defenses are nowadays, there's another adjective that may warrant inclusion on that list. Last fall, when senior Nick Reveiz was asked to characterize his backup, freshman John Propst, the Vols' senior middle linebacker called his understudy "cerebral."

Asked this week for his reaction to Reveiz's comment, Propst paused thoughtfully before responding.

"I think it just means I've got instincts and I'm a football player," he said. "There's a difference between being a football player and an athlete, and I think I have that. It's about getting in there, learning everything."

At 6-0 and 219 pounds, Propst isn't particularly big. He isn't particularly fast, either. His toughness makes up for his lack of heft, however, and his intelligence and instincts combine to offset the lack of speed.

"If you know an offense and know what they're going to do before the play, it gives you an advantage," he said. "Just being able to think like that and respond ... I guess that's what he meant by being cerebral."

No one has a bigger task this season than Propst. He recorded 14 tackles last season, 96 fewer than the guy he's replacing. Reveiz registered 108 tackles last fall.

"Nick was very productive," linebackers coach Peter Sirmon said recently. "He was a big part of getting us lined up but his production will be sorely missed. We have to find a guy who can make a lot of tackles at mike linebacker."

Propst hopes to be that guy, although he doesn't view himself as a replacement for Reveiz.

"You can't really say enough about Nick," Propst said. "He was the leader of this team. He did everything right. He's a guy you look up to. All I can do is come out here and compete every day and try to do the best for the team I can."

In addition to leading the team in tackles last fall, Reveiz got the defensive calls from the sideline, relayed them to his teammates, then made sure everybody was lined up correctly. Now Propst is assuming that big responsibility.

"That's a huge thing," he said. "That's the thing I've been trying to work on this spring. You've got to get everybody else lined up. You don't just have to know your job; you have to know everyone's around you."

Although he didn't get a lot of playing time as Reveiz's backup last fall, Propst got enough to recognize that college ball is a much bigger challenge than high school ball.

"The big thing is just the speed of the game," he said, shaking his head in amazement. "It's such a difference from high school to the SEC level."

Sirmon noted recently that the No. 1 attribute he's looking for in Vol linebackers is toughness, adding: "You can tell if somebody likes to hit or if they turn contact down. We won't, hopefully, play with too many finesse linebackers here."

Propst is no finesse linebacker. He's all about utilizing his body as a heat-seeking missile. Getting to put on the pads and take part in full-contact drills on Thursday brought a big smile to his face.

"It was exciting definitely to get out here for the first day (in full pads)," he said. "I was looking forward to it. After the first two days in helmets it got kind of boring. Getting out here and hitting people ... that's when football really started."

Although he lacks ideal size for a middle linebacker, Propst is developing the necessary strength to play the physically demanding position. That's because of the Vols' rigorous offseason conditioning program.

"It's been huge - just getting those eight weeks in the winter in, getting my legs, my size and strength up," he said. "I can definitely tell a difference but I need to keep learning. It's a process, like Coach Dooley says, and it's going good right now."

It must be going well for Propst, who is running first-team at middle linebacker just nine months after showing up for his first collegiate practice last August. That's a credit to his quick mind and work ethic.

"I would have to agree with Nick; I'm a cerebral guy who tries to lead by example," Propst said. "I work harder than everybody else. I work as hard as I possibly can and use everything that God has blessed me with."

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