HOOVER, Ala. – Though he has yet to play a down of football for Butch Jones, defensive end Curt Maggitt is likely to be a vital ingredient to a successful second season for the Vols coach.
And with a roster that has undergone a major overhaul since last season, Jones is not afraid to admit it.
He referred to Maggitt as the Vols' team leader at SEC Media Days on Tuesday in spite of the junior's last game action coming under the direction of Derek Dooley.
"I think it speaks volumes about Curt Maggitt," Jones said. "He is the leader of our football team. He was the leader last year. Unfortunately he wasn't able to participate on the field."
Maggitt missed all of the 2013 season while recovering from an ACL injury that also cut his 2012 season short. When he takes the field against Utah State on Aug. 31, it will be his first game in nearly 22 months.
"Being able to get him back on the grass for our football team — he's going to be a presence," Jones said. "He demands respect. He's accountable to his teammates. So to be able to have his voice on the field when we're in the battles is going to be critical in us moving forward."
Putting in extra work on the field and even inviting the younger players over to his place on the weekends to hang out and relax, Jones has picked up on his leadership ability.
"I think he sees my influence, even if I'm not trying to be influential," Maggitt said. "I think he sees guys look to me. I know he sees my passion for the game and how much I enjoy playing football and how much I enjoy just being on the field. And he's helping me become a lot better of a leader."
Maggitt finally considers himself healthy after the lengthy recovery period.
"It was tough, but I never doubted," Maggitt said. "A lot of people come back from ACLs. My thing is that I'm going to come back better, faster and stronger. I'm feeling really good right now."
He will be asked to move from linebacker to defensive end in coordinator John Jancek's scheme.
Maggitt had success at middle linebacker in 2012, tying for the team lead with five tackles for loss in just nine games. But with all of the starters from last year's defensive line gone, Maggitt must lead a completely new defense front.
"It's been all good — it's all football," Maggitt said of the transition. "I'm learning it. I've played defensive end before."
Jones did not limit the versatile defender to his new position, saying there still would be packages that featured Maggitt at linebacker.