Vol mystery man

Unless you cover Tennessee football or follow it VERY closely, you probably were scratching your head when the Vols lined up for their first conversion kick Saturday night against Vanderbilt.

The placement specialist wasn't first-teamer Daniel Lincoln, who has had three of his last four field-goal tries blocked. It wasn't second-teamer Chad Cunningham, who had one of his two tries blocked. Instead, it was Devin Mathis, who wasn't even listed on UT's pre-game depth chart.

Undaunted, the mystery man booted four PATs and a 25-yard field goal, helping the Vols to a 31-16 victory.

Meeting the media earlier today, Mathis described Saturday night as "completely surreal." No wonder.

"Three weeks ago I didn't think I'd ever play football again," he said. "All of a sudden I'm kicking against Vanderbilt. It was like my wildest dream."

While attending Chattanooga Baylor Mathis was a 2006 all-state pick ... in soccer. He focused exclusively on that sport until his senior year, when he doubled as place-kicker for Baylor's football team.

"We weren't a team that kicked very much," he said. "I only had like four or five opportunities.... I think I made a 48-yarder.... I feel comfortable from 45 or 50 (yards out). I don't have a specific number."

Mathis, a 5-10, 180-pounder, walked on at UT in the fall of 2006 but redshirted. He rode the bench in 2007 before achieving two minor accomplishments in 2008 - kicking a field goal in the Orange & White Game and missing a PAT in a junior varsity game against Hargrave Military.

With a major in Spanish and a football career on hold, he decided last January to spend some time fine-tuning his language skills in Mexico. Upon returning to UT a few months ago, he elected to focus on academics, giving up football once and for all. Then fate intervened.

Lincoln pulled a quadriceps muscle and had two field goals blocked in a 12-10 Game 7 loss at Alabama. Cunningham assumed the kicking duties for Game 8 vs. South Carolina but had one of his two field-goal tries blocked.

Recognizing the Vols' desperate situation, Mathis decided to offer his assistance. He contacted Kyle Strongin, director of football operations, about rejoining the team as a walk-on.

"I saw the opportunity," Mathis said, "and decided to throw my hat into the ring, see if they'd give me another shot.... I thought maybe the team needed some depth at kicker and thought maybe I could help."

Three weeks later, Mathis found himself suiting up for the Vol-Vanderbilt game. He didn't find out he'd be handling the placement chores until roughly four hours before kickoff, so there was no time to be nervous.

"I didn't have time to think about it," he said. "I had just enough time to send a few texts, tell my mom I was going to get in and tell a couple of friends going to the game to make sure they were there."

Upon returning to the locker room after the game, he found his cell-phone on system overload.

"I had something like 22 missed texts and four missed calls," he recalled. "I don't think it's slowed down yet. I'm still getting 'em."

In spite of his success vs. Vandy, Mathis says Lincoln need not view him as a long-term threat, noting: "He knows I'm just here in like a supportive role until he's really better and healthy."

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