Finesse at fullback?

Some things just make you stop, shake your head to clear it and go "Huh?" A 255-pounder talking about being a "finesse" runner, for instance.

Reporters had that reaction during a recent interview with bullish Tennessee fullback Channing Fugate, who was an oversized tailback during his days at Breathitt County High in Jackson, Ky.

"I was a little bit finesse as a high school running back, so I had to come in here and get a mean attitude," the 6-foot-1, 255-pound sophomore said. "The fullback's got to have that tough attitude."

He beat out senior Kevin Cooper to become the Vols' No. 1 fullback the second half of the 2010 season, so Fugate obviously acquired the necessary tough mindset at some point last fall.

"You just develop it," he said, smiling as he added: "I don't want a linebacker blowing me up, so I try to blow him up."

Fugate may do more than blow up linebackers this fall. He may actually carry the football, something he failed to do in five starts last season.

"Yeah, in the spring we ran some with the fullback," he said. "We haven't put it in yet but we'll see if we put it in."

Given that Fugate rushed for better than 3,000 yards as a high school junior, Vol coaches certainly could justify giving him an occasional carry.

"It should be fun," he said. "In high school I played running back, and I think they seen when they were recruiting me that I can do some things like that."

In addition to getting a lot of touches this preseason, Fugate is getting a lot of opportunities to assess freshman linebackers Curt Maggitt, A.J. Johnson and Christian Harris. He's quite impressed with them thus far.

"Yeah, a couple of 'em are pretty big," he said. "We've got some pretty big guys in, and they look pretty good, too. Curt Maggitt is looking real tough ... A.J. Johnson. A lot of the freshman defensive players are looking pretty tough. It's a good class. "

Although the fullback is mostly a blocker in Tennessee's system, Fugate shows excellent potential as a receiver. He caught two passes for 21 yards last fall. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney speaks highly of him and reportedly plans to utilize him quite a bit this fall.

"I just need to be good at fullback, then he'll let me do some other things," Fugate said. "I told him that's good with me."

After playing last fall in "the high 240s," Fugate is carrying 255 pounds this preseason. He believes the added heft will make him more effective.

"I like the extra weight," he said. "I don't feel like it's slowing me down a whole lot. It helps me moving things around a little bit more."

And it may help him stop viewing himself as a "finesse" runner.

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