Future Vol turning heads

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — As a majority of the faces in the seating section for recruits changed throughout the season at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, one of the faces that remained game-to-game was Austin Sanders.

The offensive tackle from Bradley Central (Tenn.) High School has been bought in on Tennessee from the moment he was afforded the opportunity. He is currently the lone verbal commitment in the Class of 2013.

He rounded out 2011 by making his way down to Florida for the Under Armour All-American Combine in hopes of finding ways to continue to improve.

From some of the O-line versus D-line drills that took place at the UAAA Combine, Sanders was clearly impressed by another Vol target, Deadrin Satin, who was one of several defenders that ran through a majority of the offensive linemen as though they were muddy water.

Sanders was among, if not the, best blockers from drillwork.

"Austin Sanders of Tennessee helped reclaim some dignity for the offensive linemen as he cooly stepped in and made his blocks lining up at left tackle," Scout.com national analyst Scott Kennedy said. "The offensive linemen are at a clear disadvantage during pass rush drills, but Sanders was able to show a quick drop step, set up a strong, solid base to maintain leverage, and keep his man on the perimeter."

In spite of the accolades and respect, the Cleveland, Tenn., native insists he's much better than what he showed.

"I think I can do better," Sanders said. "I don't think I came in mentally prepared.

"I just have a lot of things on my mind. I started getting it a little bit, and then I started feeling more comfortable around everybody."

The 6-foot-5, 290-pounder is quickly losing some of the loose weight that underclassmen sometimes carry. His ability to get wide against edge rushers suggests that he has potential to stay at tackle instead of having to move inside to guard. Either way, the young man that bleeds orange will be pleased to contribute.

"I'm happy anywhere as long as it's on the offensive line. That's where I've played my whole life."

While making their way from station to station, there is sometimes down time for players to converse. One player in his group that Sanders talked with was Alabama commitment Bradley Bozeman, who chose the Tide over the Vols.

"He's a good guy. We were talking probably the whole time here. We had a good conversation about the difference between Alabama and Tennessee, total opposite states.

"He said they hardly every throw. We're more balanced. They go two-point stance, we go three-point. They're a power team. They show where they're going to run, and we don't."

Sanders completed the broad jump with a measurement of 94 inches and showed a 21-inch vertical. He clocked a 40-yard dash time of 5.51 seconds and logged 23 reps of 185 pounds on the bench press. He noted that he had worked out his chest just days before the event and can bench 225 pounds roughly 20 times.

At times prospects start to look around as their status increases. So, is Sanders still firmly committed to coach Derek Dooley and the Vols?

"Oh yeah," said Sanders, who pledged shortly after receiving his verbal scholarship offer from Tennessee back in early August.

What about when other schools prod to gain his interest?

"Ah, we don't talk to them."

Bradley Central fell to Cookeville 34-28 in the first round of the TSSAA Class 6A state playoffs to finish with an overall record of 7-4.

The last time InsideTennessee saw Sanders in person, he was preparing during the preseason. From that point through Saturday's workout at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex, Sanders has a sense of his improvement.

"I feel like I've improved a lot — more mature mostly. I feel more comfortable at my position than what I did at the beginning of the year," said Sanders, who was named first-team Class 6A All-State by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association.

Tennessee offensive line coach Harry Hiestand made the trek down to Bradley Central recently to speak with Sanders' coach, Damon Floyd.

With no offensive lineman set to join the UT roster from the Class of 2012, the depth chart could play in Sanders' favor by the time he arrives on campus.

"I'd be happy to play early, but I'd like to mature and grow a little bit, get attached to my environment before I actually start to play. But, I'm all for it if they think I'm ready to play," he said.

The next time fans can expect to see Bradley Central's best is at the Orange & White game in the spring at Neyland Stadium. Until then, take a look at a few images of this future Vol below:

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