'Marked Man' Mahelona

The secret's out. Opponents have to scheme around Tennessee defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona. He's that good.

Mahelona was relatively obscure when he arrived at UT from junior college in the spring of 2004 but one fantastic fall changed that situation. He led the Southeastern Conference in minus-yardage tackles (18.5) and earned All-America honors. Now he's famous.

Mahelona recorded the Vols' only sack and one of their three quarterback hurries in the 2005 opener vs. Alabama-Birmingham, even though he was double-teamed frequently. He realizes he's going to be a marked man all season.

"That's definitely in the back of my mind," he says, "but I have to go out there and play. I can't think about that … just go out and play football."

Because most opponents will double-team him or run away from him, Mahelona probably will make fewer tackles this fall. On the flipside, though, that will free up his linemates to make more tackles this fall. Will he be content tying up blockers while other Vols make the stops?

"It really doesn't matter," he says. "I just go out there and play. If I get double-teamed and my teammates make the plays, that's just as well. If it happens, it happens."

Asked how he's a better player than a year ago, Mahelona replied: "I'm more mentally mature about the game. I know what to expect. I know what to work on. My technique's gotten better."

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