Zach Fulton has been 'big' on offensive line

At 6-4, 328 pounds, freshman a 'strong dude'

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A funny thing happened to Zach Fulton on his way to becoming Tennessee's starting right guard.

As physically ready as any of UT's freshman linemen, Fulton was able to bide a little time before he was thrust into a starting role. Meanwhile, fellow freshmen Ja'Wuan James, UT's starting right tackle since the season opener, and James Stone have been regular starters since the end of September because of position-specific injuries and overall depth issues.

Fulton was afforded the relatively rare luxury of waiting through the entire first half of the season before he started his first collegiate game in October against Alabama - a performance that drew rave reviews from his teammates and coach Derek Dooley.

And though Fulton missed a game with a sore ankle and will likely play through some pain Saturday (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.) for the Vols (5-6, 2-5 SEC) against Kentucky (6-5, 2-5), he's been entrenched at right guard ever since. He's yet to hit that "freshman wall," Dooley said, because he was one of the few exceptions in UT's abrupt youth movement on offense.

"He had a nice development. A little bit like (Tyler) Bray," Dooley said. "Because of that he steadily got better and better. Where it's hard is when you throw them right in and eventually the grind of the season beats on them. A little bit like Ja'Wuan."

It's been tough for defenders to beat on Fulton because, well, he's one of UT's most physically imposing players on either side of the ball.

Because Fulton was already 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds coming out of Homewood Flossmoor High School in Homewood, Ill., UT's coaches - both from the former staff and current one - had no trouble assuring him that he'd at least have a chance to compete for a starting job on the soon-to-be decimated offensive line. Fulton said he didn't exactly know what to do to his body during summer workout sessions, so he opted to to go bigger instead of sleeker.

He now weighs in at 328 pounds - about three pounds heavier than what his coaches want.

"I had to do some work," Fulton said in the first interview of his UT career Wednesday. "I guess me being really big did help me a lot."

Ask around, and that's the first word you'll hear from Fulton's teammates when they're asked to describe him: Big.

"He brings that physical presence inside," said senior guard Jarrod Shaw, who, at 331 pounds, still had no problem referring to Fulton as "Big Zach."

"Zach came in real strong and is a real strong dude," senior defensive end Gerald Williams said. "When he gets his hands on you, it can be a rap."

Some players around the SEC, Fulton confidently admitted, have had to learn that the hard way.

Against the Crimson Tide, Fulton remembered one play where he drove defensive lineman Damion Square 15 yards down the field. A few other big plays in that game elicited some unprompted praise from Dooley, who named Fulton his Offensive Player of the Week after a "phenomenal game."

One week later against South Carolina, Fulton said he and James received a game's worth of smack talk from one Gamecocks' defensive lineman who didn't exactly respect the all-true freshman right side of the UT offensive line.

"We didn't really say anything back to him," Fulton said. "But he was surprised."

Because of the sprained ankle, Fulton missed the Ole Miss game and was limited to just 20 snaps last week against Vanderbilt, as he split time with Shaw. Fulton said he's now close to 100 percent, but hasn't been participating in all team drills throughout practice this week because "they don't want to risk the chance of me aggravating the injury even more."

The setback hasn't done much to his confidence, which he had no trouble admitting Wednesday was "pretty high right now."

"I know I can compete with the best of them," he said. "I just had to work my way up and do everything (offensive line coach Harry) Hiestand told me what to do.

"He told me that from the beginning that I had the opportunity to start and eventually I did."

Andrew Gribble covers Tennessee football and recruiting. He may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble/

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Comments » 19

Bogus writes:

in response to FirstAndGoal:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Heck, I can't wait to see what they can do in 2 years, when they're older, stronger, and even more experienced, with some depth behind them.

Prostar writes:

I have been impressed with Zach ever since he committed, then stayed committed throughout the coaching turmoil. I was really hoping CHH would be able to recruit some more big uglies from the midwest what with his ties to the Illinois area. At least a prospect can see that playing time is a possibility if you are good enough. I still like the direction we are headed. GBO

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

He currently weighs 328, and that's 3 pounds heavier than the coaches want? That's being a little picky isn't it? At 328, 3 pounds doesn't sound like very much. He should lose that much walking out to the practice field. Anyway, hope he can make life miserable for the UK dl Saturday. Go Vols!

BreweryVol writes:

Just imagine........next year we get most of this OL back, plus Bray with all of that talent on the outside and Poole making the D play honest. 9 and 3 with a New Year's Day bowl invitation.

nocleats writes:

Never quit improving, keep climbing. stronger, quicker, faster, harder, meaner, smarter, better, every play every day, every practice. Go get em and be a leader!

nocleats writes:

If I was a running back I would want to be running behind these guys over the next 3 years. Add to that our WRs will force defenses to get their safety out of the box and a RB could become famous!

iowavol writes:

It all starts with good o-line play. We have good skill position players in the backfield and at receiver. If we can get some real chemistry with this o-line next year, we can be very productive.

UTByrd writes:

"Build it and they will come."
Go VOLS!!!!!

BigOrangeinCharge writes:

This OL has a lot of potential and Fulton's been a very pleasant surprise. It wouldn't surprise me to see Mack Crowder come in and nail down the C spot next year, letting us move Stone to LG and setting our starting OL up for the next 2-3 years. I just hope all these guys take care of business, stay out of trouble, and keep improving.

PUL4VOLS writes:

Keep pressing forward Zach. Make a way for the rbs where there is no way and we will see even greater things happen. I am excited about Sat. and the days ahead for the Football Volunteers!

fubar writes:

He porked up 20 lbs. since last summer?
Put Tyler on the same diet.

ddayvolsfan#238252 writes:

The future of the VOLS really looks bright with young TALENT all over the field, particularly on the offensive line, quarterback, and wide receiver. Tennessee wins the SEC in 2012. Mark it down.

volquest11 writes:

in response to BreweryVol:

Just imagine........next year we get most of this OL back, plus Bray with all of that talent on the outside and Poole making the D play honest. 9 and 3 with a New Year's Day bowl invitation.

Although I'm tempted to agree with you... Not so fast!

We will be a lot better in places, but still lack depth. We will only have about 5 Seniors that will be productive - B. Martin, M. Jackson, Poole, maybe Simms and Vareen. And the schedule still has a gauntlet of a 6 game stretch with Florida, LSU, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas. (Good thing @ UNC isn't still in there?)

Now if we could get a few more USC transfers - a Safety, a LB, a FB, and a TE, then we could be talkin'!

HtownVol writes:

in response to TennVolFan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Posey and Kerbyson both look like they can come in and do the same thing. Posey really looks the part, but both of them have great size (6'5 300). If we get Richardson I will be very happy with just signing the 3 we have plus Richardson. Crowder is rated the highest, but I dont look at the OC ratings. We signed Kevin Revis in 09' and he was ranked the #11 OC, he has the same size as Crowder and I dont see Revis ever starting. Hopefully Crowder will add to his frame.

Posey, Kerbyson and Richardson are all going to have their chance and one are all of them may end up starting in the next 2-3 years.

If we sign the 4 I lsted then our O-Line will be as good as any O-Line in the SEC for the next 3 years for sure.

The WRs are in just as well shape. TE's should be in good shape. I really, really want to see Worley sign with UT. If we keep JW then we are set at QB for at least 5 years. JW has actually looked (to me) better than Bray from HS clips.

I do want to see a big time RB. Neal may turn out to be very good but I have never seen much in Oku. T Smith likely wont be a starter.

Keep focusing on that D-Line CDD! A couple LBs. Make sure not to let AJ Johnson get away. And the DBs are going to get a lot of help with Martin, Randolph and Coleman. Those 3 are all going to get a lot of PT next year.

GO VOLS!

Ironcity writes:

in response to HtownVol:

Posey and Kerbyson both look like they can come in and do the same thing. Posey really looks the part, but both of them have great size (6'5 300). If we get Richardson I will be very happy with just signing the 3 we have plus Richardson. Crowder is rated the highest, but I dont look at the OC ratings. We signed Kevin Revis in 09' and he was ranked the #11 OC, he has the same size as Crowder and I dont see Revis ever starting. Hopefully Crowder will add to his frame.

Posey, Kerbyson and Richardson are all going to have their chance and one are all of them may end up starting in the next 2-3 years.

If we sign the 4 I lsted then our O-Line will be as good as any O-Line in the SEC for the next 3 years for sure.

The WRs are in just as well shape. TE's should be in good shape. I really, really want to see Worley sign with UT. If we keep JW then we are set at QB for at least 5 years. JW has actually looked (to me) better than Bray from HS clips.

I do want to see a big time RB. Neal may turn out to be very good but I have never seen much in Oku. T Smith likely wont be a starter.

Keep focusing on that D-Line CDD! A couple LBs. Make sure not to let AJ Johnson get away. And the DBs are going to get a lot of help with Martin, Randolph and Coleman. Those 3 are all going to get a lot of PT next year.

GO VOLS!

Big difference in High School and the SEC. Worley will also need to learn how to take the ball from under center. If I was a top RB I would love to come to UT. I would see huge young talented linemen in front of me and average RB's in my way. I have a feeling we are going to get a huge named RB before signing day. As for Smith he looks awfully talented and I like kids who play on winners.

Pullingguard writes:

in response to BreweryVol:

Just imagine........next year we get most of this OL back, plus Bray with all of that talent on the outside and Poole making the D play honest. 9 and 3 with a New Year's Day bowl invitation.

Offense should be set for future, but defense sure gives me some concern. There are some injured players due back but will they have depth along with experience..

justincredible369#357762 writes:

I wonder if Any of the player who didn't make it to campus this year due to grades(john brown) will make it next year? Also don't forget about Ben Martin, and Marlon Walls Returning from injury as well!

nocleats writes:

in response to TennVolFan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

"Pet" balls used by the kickers are allowed in Fla High Schools,,, They are not allowed at all in college. Palardy has got to add strenght this winter and spring, and he will!

snuffysmiff writes:

"Also,I have a question about Michael Palardy.When he was being recruited by UT,something like 90% of his kick-offs were said to be through the end-zone."

I was thinking the ball is placed further back in NCAA football for the kickoff than it is in high school.

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