'Mad Matt' returns

Somehow, Vol defensive tackle Matt McGlothlin and the word "warped" seem inextricably linked.

How else could you describe a guy who once launched homemade fireworks from his dormitory room to disrupt an on-campus remote by a Knoxville TV newswoman?

How else could you describe a guy who once said that football is his favorite sport because "You can try to kill somebody and you don't get took to jail?"

How else could you describe a guy who once confided that he loves getting tattoos because "I like pain, so it's kind of therapeutic."

Clearly, this guy has a warped sense of humor and a wild side to his personality. That wild side got a little too wild 18 months ago, causing Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer to dismiss McGlothlin from the program for the entire 2004 season, even though he had been a key reserve as a redshirt freshman in 2003.

Now that he has completed his one-year hiatus, Bam Bam (because he looks like former pro wrestler Bam Bam Bigelow) is back with the Vols. Amazingly enough, he's playing as if he hadn't missed a beat, let alone an entire season.

"He's where he was before he left," Fulmer said this week. "It's like there was a ‘time warp' when he left and he came back the same."

There's that word again. Regardless, Mad Matt has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the team this fall. No one expected him to beat out talented rookies Demonte Bolden and Vladimir Richard but he has. That's why McGlothlin is listed second-team behind All-American Jesse Mahelona at right tackle.

"I'm really happy for him," Fulmer said. "I thought maybe Demonte and those guys would beat him out but he hasn't let that happen. He's really a tough guy, a good story."

McGlothlin's rise up the depth chart got a boost from fate. Richard has been slowed by injuries and Bolden had a disappointing preseason after starring as a mid-term enrollee last spring.

"Vlad Richard has been injured and Demonte has been slow coming around," Fulmer said. "He's just now getting back to where he was last spring. I'm encouraged by his progress but I'm shocked that it took this long."

Odds are, the coach is even more shocked that Matt McGlothlin has returned from exile to emerge as one of the key figures on one of the best defenses in college football.

"Matt's done a heck of a job," Fulmer said. "He's grown up a lot as a person. I think this program's been really good for Matt. Doing without it for a year made him appreciate it that much more."


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