''I knew he was an excellent athlete,'' the Vol head man said. ''He was a heck of a baseball player and in one high school game he had like 10 receptions. But we signed him as a punter. We figured he'd be a really good punter.
''I have to give him a lot of credit for his attitude and his worth ethic. He could've hung it up a number of different times, and he didn't. Now he's the starting tight end for the University of Tennessee. That's a big deal for him, and I'm real proud of him.''
One of Reed's backups is C.J. Leak, who switched from quarterback to safety to tight end in recent weeks and seems to have found a home.
''C.J. has adjusted nicely,'' Fulmer said. ''He's working hard to get himself in the mix and is doing fine.''
Asked point-blank if Leak will play against UNLV, Fulmer nodded.
Justin Reed isn't the Vols' only surprise starter. Roshaun Fellows, a 6-0, 185-pound redshirt freshman from Warren, Ark., has beaten out two more heralded players -- world-class sprinter Jonathan Wade and flashy Jonathan Hefney -- for the left cornerback spot.
Fellows intercepted a pass in each of the four scrimmages last spring and picked off another in the first preseason scrimmage.
''Roshaun has been the most consistent cornerback,'' Fulmer said. ''Jon Hefney and Jon Wade are as talented but haven't shown the consistency that lend them to be the starter.''
Corey Campbell and Brandon Johnson will start at safety, assuming the jobs held by Rashad Baker and Gibril Wilson in 2002 and 2003. The inexperience of Campbell and Johnson is a major concern at such a critical position.
''If we play up to the level we expect in the secondary, I expect our defense to be a very sound and good group,'' Fulmer said. ''We tackled better this fall. If we don't give up the big plays with missed tackles and deep balls because somebody wasn't conscious of their responsibilty, I think we can have a really good defensive team this year.'' Frosh to make impact