John Propst on his future with the Vols
Nobody is spared from Derek Dooley’s good-natured jokes, not even a guy who just won an award and is being honored in front of the team.
Ask John Propst.
Even the Tennessee linebacker admitted being surprised when he was named to the Freshman All-SEC squad by the league coaches after the season, which was pretty much the only opening his coach needed to rib Propst about the honor.
Never one to miss a good opportunity for a laugh, Dooley took full advantage before Tennessee got to work last week on North Carolina for the Music City Bowl in Nashville on Dec. 30 (TV: ESPN, 6:30 p.m.).
“I told Propst, first I congratulated him on his award, and then I told him I did some research and he was the only freshman (middle) linebacker that played on any team this year,” Dooley said. “So he won by default.
“Then I smiled. He was crushed when I told him, and then I told him I was just kidding, congratulations. That got him thinking though.”
Propst does plenty of that already, and his inherited football knowledge from a family of coaches and a knack for absorbing playbooks certainly helped him get on the field early for the Vols (6-6, 3-5 SEC) and grab some attention around the conference.
He only finished the season with 14 total tackles, but in some extended playing time in a blowout loss at Georgia he tallied six of them — including one for a loss — to provide a glimpse of his potential.
And if nothing else, it also set him apart from a bunch of other freshmen linebackers who never had the same chance.
“(The award) did surprise me a little bit,” Propst said. “I saw it and was like, ‘How did I get that? I didn’t play that much.’
“(Dooley) just told me, ‘You didn’t think you’d get this when you came here.’ I was like, ‘No, I had no idea.’ It’s an honor, definitely, to get that. It was something I didn’t think I would get, but to be named in the same breath as those great SEC athletes is a great accomplishment.”
The Vols will be counting on him to build on it now, particularly with the linebacking corps headed for a makeover with the loss of senior starters Nick Reveiz and LaMarcus Thompson, and reserve Savion Frazier after the bowl game.
UT will still have Herman Lathers at one spot on the outside, but it will need some or all of the combination of Austin Johnson, Daryl Vereen, Raiques Crump, Propst and a healthy Greg King to step into larger roles next year.
Replacing Reveiz figures to be the most daunting challenge, but in terms of studying film and soaking up schemes, Propst at least appears to be cut from the same cloth.
“My dad and my uncle are both high school coaches and I grew up with them just always trying to be a student of the game, always trying to learn everything I can,” Propst said. “I think that’s a huge aspect, knowing what’s going to go on before the play and that just puts you a step ahead of everybody else.
“That’s a huge thing you’ve got to work on, and it’s one thing I pride myself on doing is trying to watch film and learn the defense and where everyone else is so I know where I need to be.”
Obviously, that’s no laughing matter on a game day, and it perhaps is the most critical part of Propst’s position.
But for the rest of the week his passion for learning just provides one more way for the Vols to crack a few jokes at his expense.
“In the meetings and stuff, he’s not the biggest talker, but we joke around with him a lot because he’s the smart guy and knows everything,” Johnson said. “Propst definitely is the smart guy in the bunch. He knows what he’s doing, and he picked up the defense immediately when he started learning it. He’s going to be a great player for us.
“He’s obviously really young, only a freshman, so the sky is the limit for him.”
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.