One handy Gandy

A funny thing happened to Richie Gandy on his way to an uneventful 2004 football season: He got a chance to play ... and play ... and play some more.

With Cody Douglas sidelined and several other offensive linemen nicked up, Gandy started Game 8 against South Carolina Oct. 30 at Columbia. Since he's a native of Darlington, he got to celebrate his first college start and his homecoming on the same day.

''It felt great,'' he recalled. ''I was in front of the home crowd for one thing, and getting to start there was huge for me. I was nervous, of course, but that was awesome.''

Gandy subsequently started Games 10 (Vanderbilt), 11 (Kentucky) and 12 (Auburn), proving to be a dependable blocker. With Michael Munoz out and Douglas somewhat questionable for the Jan. 1 Cotton Bowl game against Texas A&M, Gandy may get one more start this year. That would be quite an accomplishment for a guy who seemed destined for little more than mopup action back in September.

''It's been great,'' he said of his increased playing time. ''This is something I've been working for from Day 1. I'm enjoying it. I hope I'm playing well enough to stay in that (starting) position.''

After rarely leaving the bench during his first 3 1/2 seasons, the 6-5, 315-pound junior is thrilled to finally get a chance to contribute. He admits that staying motivated while never playing was difficult.

''It's tough to be in that position,'' he said. ''But if you want to get to the position I wanted to get to -- being a starter -- you have to go to work every day. That's where you prove to the coaches you deserve to be on the field with the best.''

Tennessee's offensive line has been decimated by injuries this fall. Douglas missed six starts, Munoz three, Jason Respert two and Arron Sears one. Since most blocks are one-on-one, you wonder: Why is cohesion so important to an offensive line?

''There's just five of us there,'' Gandy said, ''so if four of us do our job and one doesn't, the play's no good. We have to trust one another. If I'm combo blocking with the guy next to me, I have to know he's going to be there and get the job done. That trust is huge.''

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