Life on a pedestal

Life on pedestal is fun … unless you get knocked off.

That's the dilemma facing Tennessee's football team, which is ranked No. 3 nationally in the preseason Coaches poll. Being listed among the elite is flattering but it's also challenging. Opponents are a little more motivated to beat you when you're sporting a top-five ranking.

Linebacker Kevin Simon understands this better than most. As a fifth-year senior, he's played for teams that were highly ranked and teams that were unranked. As a result, he understands the added pressure that comes with a lofty ranking.

"People are going to try to make their season knocking off the No. 3 ranked team," Simon said. "It's all a mentality and an attitude that ‘I'm not going to get knocked off my pedestal.'"

Asked if the No. 3 ranking might be too high, Simon paused thoughtfully before responding.

"I'm not sure," he said. "That'd be tough for me to say."

After another pause, Simon laughed and added: "I'm just going to let those guys (voters) handle that stuff, and I'm just going to do it on the field."

Simon suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Game 2 last fall. He was limited in spring practice but says he's fully recovered and ready to go.

"I'm 100 percent right now," he said. "The knee is fine. I feel really, really good running around out there."

Asked what motivated him to fight his way through his second ACL rehabilitation in four years, Simon smiled broadly.

"Knowing I'd love to get back out here for two-a-days and be able to hit somebody," he said.

He'll get that chance on Tuesday, when the Vols don full pads and begin contact work.

"It's going to be fun for me because I've been out of the game for about a year now," Simon said. "It'll be cool to get back out there. The first day in pads is always a fun time, always an exciting time. You've got fresh bodies out there, so everybody's jittery to go hit somebody."

Asked if he has any lingering concerns about how his knee will stand up to making cuts and taking hits, Simon shook his head vigorously.

"Not at all," he said. "I've been running around and cutting, and I went through some of spring practice. I did tackling drills five months out of surgery, and I'm nine months out now, so I'm good. I'm fine."

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