Gift That Keeps Giving

Nobody wants to be just another sap, but there are a lot of high school, college and NFL D-lineman that would love to be another Warren Sapp.

Tennessee added one such player on Christmas Day when Louisiana defensive tackle Rolando Melancon committed during a phone call to Volunteer head coach Phillip Fulmer. Melancon had indicated that was his plan in an interview with Inside Tennessee last week.

"Tennessee's my school," he said a week ago. "Time frame wise I could go with them any day now. I don't know what I'm waiting on, just keeping my community waiting. When Tennessee came to my house I told them around Christmas I might give them a Christmas present."

It turned out to be an orange and white Christmas at Melancon's Lutcher, La., home where his family was gathered and shared the news of his decision to commit to Tennessee.

"I called coach Fulmer later on toward the evening. I had told him once before I was going to give him a Christmas present. So that was my Christmas present to him. I told him I was ready to be a Vol. So everyone was happy. My family was happy because every Christmas we have a little gathering at our house and a lot of relatives come by so that was the perfect time for me to announce I wanted to be a Vol. I don't think I could have done it any better with my family right here. I let them know first and then told the coaching staff. Coach Fulmer was real happy about it."

After missing portions of his sophomore and junior seasons with complications from surgery for a broken fibula, Melancon came back strong as a senior recording 97 tackles, 28 tackles for losses, five sacks, six fumble recoveries and three interceptions despite facing an array of double team blocks, traps and misdirections designed to control his impact on defense. He led Lutcher to the Class-3A state title and won MVP honors for his play in the final. He had eight tackles, three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

"I think my speed is one of my strengths," he said. "I know the game. The interception was on a quarterback throwback. He tossed the ball to the running back and he ran way right. I could tell what he was going to do so I just chased him and deflected the ball and intercepted it. That's how I got three interceptions on deflections and screens. I just get after it. I never stop. I just know how to make plays."

Melancon's ability to make plays has a lot to do with his size, speed and instincts. At 6-foot-1, 270 pounds he's not the biggest defensive tackle, but he is among the quickest. He has 4.82 speed and outstanding lateral mobility. He bench presses a respectable 315 pounds, has a 30-inch vertical and an impressive 4.55 shuttle time. He'll need to add weight and strength to play in the SEC, but he can compensate for physical shortcomings with his explosive first step, excellent leverage and ability to exploit angles. He played some on the nose and can shoot the gap in addition to controlling two gaps against the run. His attacking style fits Dan Brooks stunting schemes to a T."

Melancon, who is rated No. 33 by Scout.com among the nation's defensive tackle prospects, chose Tennessee over offers from an impressive of programs, including finalists — LSU, Arkansas, Michigan, Nebraska and Ole Miss.

"I wear No. 99," he said. "I'd like to get that number at Tennessee. It belongs to Warren Sapp and that's who I try to play like."

Tennessee could use a Sapp ASAP.


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