Early Bird Specials

With a stellar senior season under his belt, Tennessee signee Austin Johnson of Hickory, N.C., will now tighten his belt, sharpen his pencils and begin his career as an SEC student/athlete.

Less than a month after his high school season ended and eight months before 2008 preseason practice begins, the burly six-foot-3, 240-pound, middle linebacker is already fully emersed into the student/athlete lifestyle. A December graduate from Hickory High School he is scheduled to enroll in classes today and will room with an another early graduate.

"He will be on campus tomorrow (Sunday), said Austin's father Mike Anderson. "He'll be going through orientation on Monday and Tuesday and he starts classes on Wednesday (Jan. 9). We're moving him into Gibbs Hall and he'll be rooming with Tauren Poole who is coming early too. They'll be starting class and getting ready to play ball."

Poole is rated the nation's No. 42 running back prospect by Scout.com. He enjoyed a highly productive career at Stephens High School in Toccoa, Ga.. rushing for nearly 5,000 yards. At 5-10, 200, Poole is a tough runner who breaks a lot tackles. He doesn't have great breakaway speed (4.6) but he has excellent vision, balance and the ability to make tacklers miss. He's also a good receiver out of the backfield. Like Johnson, he is an honor student and a student of the game.

Johnson's swan song for the Tornadoes hit a lot of high notes. He recorded an astounding 211 tackles to lead Hickory to an 11-0 regular season record and the state playoffs. He didn't play offense this year but gained over 900 yards rushing and receiving as a junior in addition to compiling 117 stops. During his first three seasons, HIckory got knocked out in the first round. of the playoffs. The Tornadoes went further this season before losing to Charlotte Catholic, but not far enough to satisfy the hard working and highly competitive Johnson.

"They thought they could go all the way so they were a little disappointed about getting knocked out in the third round," said Mike Johnson. "But he's excited about being a Vol and he's looking forward to getting over there and getting started."

Johnson was later selected to play in the annual Carolina Shrine Bowl. He led North Carolina in stops with 12 and was also voted team captain.

"There are 37,000 high school players in North and South Carolina and only 80 make it to the game," said Mr. Johnson. "He had a real good Shrine Bowl and I was real proud his team voted him captain. For all those all-star guys down there to see leadership in him. Hopefully Tennessee will see that too and he'll be a future leader for the Vols." While practicing for the Shrine Bowl Johnson roomed with New Bern inside linebacker Kevin Reddick, who has also been offered by Tennessee. The 6-2, 210-pound prospect is also considering offers from North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, East Carolina and N.C. State. Reddick is rated the nation's No. 24 MLB, while Johnson checks in at No. 18.

However could end up at defensive end for the Vols or might become an H-back or fullback. He runs a 4.7 and is a four-sport athlete. He bench presses 340 pounds and squats over 500.

"No one at Tennessee has really told me that their plans for me are playing defensive end, but I've heard rumors," Austin told IT in an earlier interview. "Like people said when I get there I'm going to be moved to defensive end. That's just fans and stuff so I really don't know, but whatever fits the team best that's what I will do."

When asked to describe his strength as a player Johnson, who plans to major in "business administration" said: "I think my strength as a football player is probably having a nose for the ball. My mental ability plays a part in that. I can read plays really well. It seems like I know what's coming and I just always seem to be there when I need to be there. I just love the game so it's also the passion for it."

Clearly, Austin Johnson has the mind, body and spirit to make a positive impact at Tennessee.

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