Ritzmann learned from watching

Although a preseason ACL tear wiped out his 2002 football season, Vol defensive end Constantin Ritzmann says he learned a lot just by watch his UT teammates last fall.

''I learned that it's a special thing to play football for Tennessee,'' he said. ''It's something unique. When you watch, you realize how special it is to run through the T and play in front of all those people. There's a good lesson to learn: To play every play as hard as you can because you never know when it's going to end.''

Watching the Vols from the sidelines was hard. Watching the Vols go 8-5 was even harder.

''When you see your team lose, you think, 'If I'd been there, maybe I could help and things would be different,' '' Ritzmann said. ''It was hard to watch but I learned a lot.''

Ritzmann underwent exhaustive rehabilitation on the injured knee during the spring and summer. It was tedious and time-consuming but knowing his final season of college football awaits provided all the motivation he needed.

''There's no giving up,'' he said. ''One more year ... one more year to shine ... one more year to do what I have to do. It wasn't really difficult.''

Now he thinks the knee's as good as new.

''Absolutely,'' he said. ''I feel as quick and as strong as I ever did. I feel really good.''

Still, he's aware that the knee hasn't been battle-tested. It hasn't absorbed any hits and it hasn't survived any high-speed cuts.

''I'll have to play against some of the guys and see where I'm at,'' he conceded. ''I'm sure there'll be some getting used to the contact again but, overall, I'm pretty good where I am.''

Ritzmann fully expects to practice full-speed when preseason drills open Aug. 5.

''I don't think there's any reason to hold me back,'' he said. ''Right now I'm doing exactly what everybody else is doing. The knee feels fine.''

Ritzmann returned to his native Germany during the mini-term and spent 2 1/2 weeks with his wife (Christina) and family. Now he's back in Knoxville and eager to hit the practice field.

''My goal is just to play the best football I can play, help the team win as many games as it can,'' he said. ''It would be awesome if I get a lot of sacks and tackles and stuff but the main goal is to win games and win championships.''

If there's another main goal, it's to stay healthy. Until he ripped his ACL last August he had never been seriously injured.

''Not like that,'' Ritzmann said. ''That's the first injury that took me out for a season. It was the first time and, hopefully, the last.''


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