Herman Lathers has 'a decision to make'

Linebacker could apply for medical redshirt

Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers stops a run by Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. Tennessee won the game 52-14.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers stops a run by Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. Tennessee won the game 52-14.

Nothing's been easy for Herman Lathers this year, so it's only fitting that how he plans to end a tumultuous 2011 remains uncertain and tenuous.

Make no mistake: Lathers, a Tennessee redshirt junior linebacker who broke his ankle during the summer, wants to play. He cried for days after suffering the injury, considered quitting after undergoing his second surgical procedure of the year — he missed spring practice because of shoulder surgery — but ultimately decided that the months of painful rehab were worth it just to have a chance to build off a productive sophomore campaign.

It just might not be worth it for Lathers to return this season.

Lathers already used a redshirt season when he enrolled in 2008, but his case for a medical hardship waiver, which would allow him to extend his college career one more year after 2012, certainly seems compelling enough on the surface. There are no certainties when players petition the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility — "no black and white answers," as defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said after Wednesday's practice — but any chance he has at one goes immediately out the window if he plays a single snap in UT's four remaining regular-season games or a potential bowl game.

Lathers has been ruled out for Saturday's game (TV: FSTN, 7 p.m.) against Middle Tennessee State and his status for a Nov. 12 trip to Arkansas appears extremely doubtful. If he's not feeling close to his old self by then, Lathers said he's prepared to move on to 2012.

"I guess if it goes well, I'll continue to press forward and see what I get," Lathers said Wednesday in his first interview since August. "If not, then I'll have a decision to make."

The NCAA has seemingly softened its stance on requests for a sixth year of eligibility in recent years. According to NCAA bylaws, a waiver is granted "based upon objective evidence for reasons that are beyond the control of the student-athlete or

the institution, which deprive the student-athlete of the opportunity to participate for more than one season in his/her sport within the five-year period."

Those clear-cut cases, though, aren't the ones that garner national attention. Ones like Houston quarterback Case Keenum's, which unexpectedly provided him a sixth year of eligibility for the 2011 season, are more common. Those go before the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement, which can overlook the "more-than-one-year criteria" because of "circumstances of extraordinary or extreme hardship."

The last UT player to receive a sixth year of eligibility was defensive back Antonio Gaines (2008), who suffered multiple season-ending injuries throughout his career.

"When the time comes that he's 100 percent cleared, then we can sit down and have a talk," Wilcox said of Lathers. "That's something you've got to sit down with all the people that work in the department that have an expertise in that and decide."

Lathers, of course, knows a thing or two about hardships.

At 10, Lathers was diagnosed with bone cancer. He survived it, but was forced to take shots for years and it prevented him from playing football until his sophomore year of high school. As a redshirt freshman in 2009, Lathers dealt with an undisclosed blood condition that ultimately prompted him to have his spleen removed.

All of that made 2010, when he was second on the team with 75 tackles, all the more rewarding. And that's why 2011 has been all the more crushing.

"It was tough, just having a freak accident the way I did," Lathers said. "It was tough on me because I was ready to quit. I was wondering why it was always me that was getting injured."

Lathers had 11 screws inserted in his left ankle after he collided with a UT defensive back on the very first play of voluntary seven-on-seven drills this summer. He blacked out from the pain when it happened, but he hasn't had that luxury throughout a grueling rehabilitation process that only recently allowed him to start jogging around the practice field.

That is, perhaps, why the first two days of contact have been tough on Lathers, who said he feels pain all around the ankle after long sessions like Wednesday's.

"I'm just not at 100 percent right now," Lathers said. "It's part of my progress getting back at practice and getting back in the swing of things."

With the emergence of freshmen Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson and consistently strong play from senior Austin Johnson, UT has been surprisingly productive at the linebacker position this season, so it's unlikely that Lathers would immediately be plopped back into his old starting role whenever he's fully recovered. It's a rare situation that's allowed the Vols to show off some depth and not force Lathers into an even tougher decision.

"Hopeful is a good word, but I don't expect him to (come back this season)," coach Derek Dooley said. "So, we'll just see, we'll take it week to week."

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Comments » 32

BigVolinCarolina writes:

Herman, you are talented and have worked very hard. You have also endured a lot over the past several months. I know you'd love to come back and play now because it's in your blood to help your team; however, please take the medical redshirt and come back next year. We could certainly use you and your leadership!

Go Vols!

DooleysOrangePants writes:

shut it down til next year.

VOLliven2it writes:

Would rather see him get the redshirt and help the Vol defense longer. Besides, it will take him a while to get accustomed to contact which may render him not as effective for the remainder of this year. Think it over man. We need you.

TNVolunteers57 writes:

I hope he goes for the redshirt, we could really use the depth going forward.

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

Herman, football will be here next year. Don't risk it.

Get better. We really need you.

tennesseebee writes:

Herman, keep your seat, son. We have this season firmly contained in the crapper. Need you worse for an extra season and it will give you a chance to gain some momentum for a professional career if that is what you are seeking.

Volunteer-Varmint writes:

Go Big Orange!

1963VOLS writes:

wait on 2012 and two more really great years you,ve earned it.

RoadTrip writes:

Go for the med redshirt. Regardless, skip this season and get healthy. We need you next season to provide the leadership to glue the D together.

MtJ_Orange writes:

Maybe A.J. Johnson moves to the middle with Lathers and Maggitt on the outside next year? I believe the future is looking good in Big Orange Country!

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

I'd rather see him go for the medical redshirt and have 2 more years in a Tennessee uniform.

He's earned it and 2 full years could help him alot more to get a chance in the NFL if that's 1 of his goals.

He's been through too much to play in a few meaningless games and lose a year that might be a great season down the road.

VFL...GO BIG ORANGE!!!

PHAT_VOL writes:

Hang in there Herman its just time thats all. The NFL is ready when you are.

volaholic45 writes:

Don't cash in a possible/probable year of good football just to mop up in a game or two at the end of a sucky season.

taylorsvolfan writes:

Wait until next season Herman !!

Digital5000 writes:

We have Johnson in the middle now, and the season is tanked. 2yrs in the future with with Maggitt, AJ, and Big Herm sound awful nice.

I say take the rest of the yr and get that ankle back to 100% and get ready for next yr.

-Enjoy Yoself

Ayres_Hall writes:

Herman is a red-shirt junior having already used his red-shirt as a Frosh. The medical hardship waiver would extend his eligibility into the 2013 season. Yes, he has a year remaining, regardless.

D60 writes:

Hang in there Herman,all of us are looking towards 2012 after the debacle that Dooley's made this year

Digital5000 writes:

in response to D60:

Hang in there Herman,all of us are looking towards 2012 after the debacle that Dooley's made this year

You're right...This is Dooley's fault.

Our best 2 offensive players go down (and the best QB in the SEC), as well as damn near ever other play maker we have. Playing 18 freshmen in the SEC for 2 straight years is no doubt Dooley's fault.

Bear Bryant couldn't win with this team right now. Future looks good, but as you know already...Dooley has nothing to do with that. He's the one that got us into this mess.

You're a joke.

-Enjoy Yoself

tennrich1 writes:

in response to D60:

Hang in there Herman,all of us are looking towards 2012 after the debacle that Dooley's made this year

I don't usually respond to statements like this but I just figure you didnt know.....Injuries and schedules have hampered the Orange probably more than perceived debacling by dooley....Now that's just an educated guess...

shipperman#280095 writes:

in response to Digital5000:

You're right...This is Dooley's fault.

Our best 2 offensive players go down (and the best QB in the SEC), as well as damn near ever other play maker we have. Playing 18 freshmen in the SEC for 2 straight years is no doubt Dooley's fault.

Bear Bryant couldn't win with this team right now. Future looks good, but as you know already...Dooley has nothing to do with that. He's the one that got us into this mess.

You're a joke.

-Enjoy Yoself

Before you chastise me, I AM ALL VOL. However, what are you basing that Bray is the best QB in the SEC? He has truly only played the cupcake teams, and the 2 bigger games, GA and FL he played in we lost

Bigger_Al writes:

I wonder what kind of NFL prospects he has based on size, speed, and production. Tennessee LB tackling machines used to be NFL-locks (Mayo, Gaither). I'm sure they'll want to see how he comes back regarding his speed and quickness. If that's not close to 100% until next season, then it would be good to have the option for 2013.

cooper65#432178 writes:

in response to BigVolinCarolina:

Herman, you are talented and have worked very hard. You have also endured a lot over the past several months. I know you'd love to come back and play now because it's in your blood to help your team; however, please take the medical redshirt and come back next year. We could certainly use you and your leadership!

Go Vols!

Absolutely, there's nothing to be gained by coming back this year. With a medical, we'll have him 2 more years and if he can stay healthy, hopefully he can work his way into the NFL.

volfanz writes:

in response to Digital5000:

We have Johnson in the middle now, and the season is tanked. 2yrs in the future with with Maggitt, AJ, and Big Herm sound awful nice.

I say take the rest of the yr and get that ankle back to 100% and get ready for next yr.

-Enjoy Yoself

Exactly what I was thinking....sure will look nice with him being surrounded by our current Frosh backers out there. Next year he should complete one of the most imposing defensive second layers in the SEC.

Digital5000 writes:

in response to shipperman#280095:

Before you chastise me, I AM ALL VOL. However, what are you basing that Bray is the best QB in the SEC? He has truly only played the cupcake teams, and the 2 bigger games, GA and FL he played in we lost

Well let me see. I'd say the fact that Todd McShay says he already one of the top 5 QB's in the nation before he went down. I think that'd put him in the top of the SEC. Who would you like to throw out??? Jarrett Lee? Aaron Murray? How about AJ McCarron?

I think I'll take McShay's breakdown over yours. Then again, you probably think he doesn't know what hes doing either.

-Enjoy Yoself

Digital5000 writes:

Just a few others...Maybe you can convince me that John Brantley is better. Jordan Rogers possibly? Let me guess Ty Wilson is your man. Lets not forget Maxwell Smith or Barry Brunetti. They'll all be stars in the NFL

-Enjoy Yoself

VolinVirginia writes:

in response to shipperman#280095:

Before you chastise me, I AM ALL VOL. However, what are you basing that Bray is the best QB in the SEC? He has truly only played the cupcake teams, and the 2 bigger games, GA and FL he played in we lost

This article is about Herman Lathers and a decision he has to make.......

stovepipedrinker writes:

"It was tough on me because I was ready to quit. I was wondering why it was always me that was getting injured."

Maybe Herman could sit down and talk with Inky Johnson for awhile. VFL!

shipperman#280095 writes:

in response to Digital5000:

Well let me see. I'd say the fact that Todd McShay says he already one of the top 5 QB's in the nation before he went down. I think that'd put him in the top of the SEC. Who would you like to throw out??? Jarrett Lee? Aaron Murray? How about AJ McCarron?

I think I'll take McShay's breakdown over yours. Then again, you probably think he doesn't know what hes doing either.

-Enjoy Yoself

Well, he did pretty good because we bought out NC and payed Buffalo to become an extra cupcake. I would guess McShay might break it down a little differently if Bray had played against any real teams and did well. Bray conveniently has not faced the likes of LSU or Bama. And McCarron is winning isn't he? We are 0-5 in SEC

brokendownoldvol writes:

Seven screws? Set it out til next yr. This season is over anyway.

RashaadSalabeb writes:

in response to BigVolinCarolina:

Herman, you are talented and have worked very hard. You have also endured a lot over the past several months. I know you'd love to come back and play now because it's in your blood to help your team; however, please take the medical redshirt and come back next year. We could certainly use you and your leadership!

Go Vols!

Ditto! Good luck with the healing process, Herman!

Go Vols!

cloudodust writes:

I'd hate to risk a player's confidence and health coming off injury, missing all of 2011 to this point, using whatever's left of the year at less than 100% to prep for 2012. But I'm not Herman Lathers and it's not my decision, but if I were involved with the program, I'd tell him to go after the medical RS. It's hard at this level to return to the game after missing a season. I wish him well...GBO

rockytop10c_1 writes:

Best Of Luck To You Herman, In Whatever Your Decision Is!

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