Vol staff feels good about Wilhoit

<!--Default For Tennessee is to ignore-->Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer doesn't sound like a guy who'll be relying on a freshman placekicker this fall. Based on what he has seen in spring practice and early preseason drills, the Vols' head man seems quite confident that redshirt <!--Default NodeId For James Wilhoit is 669093,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:669093]>James Wilhoit</A> will do a fine job.

''James Wilhoit last year, from midseason on, showed he's a consistent guy,'' Fulmer said recently. ''Can you ask him to go back there and kick a 55-yarder consistently? I don't know if we're there yet. But anything inside the 30-yard line -- which is a pretty darned good kick -- I think he's going to be exceptionally consistent.

''At least, he's shown that. He hasn't played in a game, so we'll put him in as many scrimmage situations as we possibly can. My hope is that he passes all of those tests with flying colors.''

Wilhoit was the top-rated high school kicker in America as a prep senior but knew he'd probably redshirt in 2002 while senior Alex Walls handled the Vols' placement duties. When Walls pulled a quadricep muscle early last season and fill-in Phillip Newman struggled on field goal tries, Fulmer very nearly activated Wilhoit from the redshirt ranks.

''Phillip Newman was four of eight last year, and that's not nearly good enough,'' the head man said. ''When Alex Walls pulled his quad, I almost went ahead and played James. But I thought it was the right thing in the long term -- for him and for us -- not to do that, thinking Alex would be back at any time.

''I think it paid off for us to do that because James is stronger, more confident, more ready for the challenges because he didn't get put into a situation he wasn't ready for.''

Lacking the overwhelming talent it had in the late 1990s, Tennessee projects to play a lot of close games this fall ... games that could be decided by a James Wilhoit field goal perhaps. Fulmer seems to share that way of thinking.

As the head man noted: ''He needs to have a good year for us to be as good as we can be.''

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