Living his dream

As a walk-on safety, he wasn't projected to play much for the 2010 Tennessee Vols. Then the competition began to dwindle.

Eric Berry opted for the NFL Draft. So did Dennis Rogan. Next, Darren Myles was dismissed from the program. Then freshman DBs Marcques Dixon and Eddrick Loften failed to qualify for admission. All of a sudden, Tyler Wolf's chances of earning some playing time at safety are looking up.

"It's getting pretty serious," the 5-11, 202-pound senior said recently. "We'd love to have EB, Dennis and Darren still around but when an opportunity arises, you have to be ready. I trained all summer for it."

A native of Cookeville, Wolf comes from a family of Vol fans. And, like many in-state youngsters, he grew up fantasizing about playing for the Big Orange someday.

"That's how it always was when I was a kid," he said. "I dreamed of this when I was little.

"We've always been big fans, always had season tickets and come to games. I guess it's an added bonus that my parents get to come and watch me play."

Family members got to see Tyler play a key role on kickoff and punt coverage last fall. He recorded 10 special-teams tackles, second only to Berry (14) in that category.

"That was great," Wolf said. "Those are the small plays and nobody remembers those but they're just as important as offense and defense. That's how we approach it."

Wolf's scrimmage action last season was limited to mop-up roles in games that were no longer in doubt.

"I played some in the Vanderbilt game, the Ole Miss game and got a few snaps in the Virginia Tech game," he recalled. "I didn't get any major time - five or 10 snaps sprinkled in here and there - but I know what it's like to play in that atmosphere."

Considering how thin Tennessee's depth is at the safety spots, Wolf could see meaningful action in the secondary this season - especially if the Vols get a defensive back or two injured.

"It's a good opportunity," he said. "It's always fun to play with those guys. Those are my best friends on the team - my position guys - so it's good to get an opportunity to play with them."

Wolf's role as a special-teams standout and an insurance policy at safety hasn't earned much recognition from the fan base but it has earned the respect of Tennessee's head coach. Derek Dooley rewarded Wolf with a scholarship earlier this summer.

"That meant a lot," the player said. "It was a long, long process and it feels good to get that honor. The (scholarship) players always have been real welcoming. It does kind of put a stamp of approval on it but I've always felt pretty much a part of the team."

Wolf is an integral part of the team in terms of kickoff and punt coverage. Perhaps this is the year he'll get to play a role in the secondary, as well.

"This is my last go-round, and I'm ready," he said. "This is all I've been playing for."

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