High on his back, just under the right shoulder, was the temporary evidence.
Malik Jackson, like the rest of his teammates, has immersed himself in the Vol for Life program, and the sawdust on his shirt provided Exhibit A on Saturday morning.
Just a little lower on the defensive tackle’s right arm was the permanent proof of Jackson’s dedication to Tennessee heading into his second and final season with the school.
Right above the elbow a ‘Power T’ logo leads down to another new design with ‘VOLS’ stretching across Jackson’s forearm, ink that’s now about two months old but he was proud to show off during a break as the senior class put a wrap on a Habitat for Humanity project Saturday morning.
“I said the school I graduated from, that’s what I’m going to get tatted,” Jackson said. “I’m glad I didn’t get a (Southern California) one, I’d be looking stupid right now.”
Instead Jackson is looking pretty smart for taking advantage of the NCAA penalties for the Trojans that allowed him to transfer last summer without sitting out a year, and the Vols also made out well by turning him into a defensive tackle midway through his debut season with the team.
The partnership has almost certainly worked out better than either side could have imagined to this point, with Jackson providing invaluable versatility for a defensive line short on depth and UT helping turn him into one of the most talked-about tackles in the SEC with preseason hype coming from all angles this summer.
All of that obviously wasn’t part of Jackson’s plan when he was an end at Southern California fighting for playing time, and even a little more than a year ago the likelihood of him building cabinets in South Knoxville, inking his allegiance to the Vols or just playing on the interior would have been a surprise.
“I would have thought you guys were lying or something, I don’t know,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t have believed you.
“You know, it was a big jump. I took this leap of faith not knowing what would happen coming over here, and it turned out really great for me. I’m really excited and happy that it turned out so well. It was a rough journey, you know, and I didn’t know it was going to end like this. I had to put in a lot of hard work, but it paid off in the end so I’m really happy.”
There’s a lot more hard work to put in before the Vols get back on the field, which Jackson was quick to point out as he tries to add about five pounds to his frame to get to 280 before the season.
He’s also still experimenting with different roles during offseason workouts, sliding out at times when the second team comes in with junior-college transfer Maurice Couch at tackle to take some reps at his old spot on the edge. Jackson’s ability to fill multiple spots up front is no less valuable than it was last year, now that UT has lost Montori Hughes off the roster, and it’s no secret Jackson will be on the short list of players counted on the most this fall.
But Jackson has made it clear in more ways than one he’ll represent the Vols anyway he can.
“That was a sad story, I was sad to see (Hughes) go,” Jackson said. “But (nothing) really (changes). We’re going to keep the bus moving.
“He’ll be missed, but we’ve got young guys in here and people who can make up the slack for him. It’s a sad loss, but we’ve got to keep the ball rolling.”
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.