Herman Lathers has advanced in rank since he last played a football game for Tennessee.
He was just a starting linebacker for the Vols when he broke his ankle before the 2011 season. Now, he's referred to as "general."
"The big general here," senior teammate Prentiss Waggner said as he looked Lathers' way while UT seniors were involved in a Habitat for Humanity project Saturday. "He demands everything.
"People are pretty much scared of him with all those muscles he has."
Waggner smiled at the thought, but he wasn't kidding about the leadership role Lathers has taken as the Vols prepare for the 2012 football season with hopes of improving on last year's 5-7 finish.
"Everybody has seen his work ethic," Waggner said. "He's had injuries, but he pushes forward.
"He'll still have a minor injury here and there, but you will never see him get out of a drill. He always finishes the drill."
UT coaches raved about Lathers this spring for the same reason. There was no hint of trepidation as he resumed contact for the first time since his injury. The whole team noticed, too.
Younger teammates learned something else about Lathers.
"A lot of those guys didn't know about the bone cancer (when Lathers was 15)," said senior offensive guard Dallas Thomas, who was a high school teammate of Lathers' in Baton Rouge, La. "They see that he's giving his all and really opening up to the team."
Illness and injury behind him, Lathers seems immersed in his team and the preparation for the upcoming season. His weight is up to 233 pounds after adding 15 pounds, which could serve him well as one of the middle men in UT's new 3-4 defensive alignment.
"A lot of guys lose weight during fall camp," he said. "If I could go into the season at 230 or 235, that would be pretty good."
He also has regained the speed he lost from his injury.
"The seven-on-seven drills that we do on our own (this summer) ... I was breaking on the ball better," he said. "I'm getting my quickness and first step back."
Lathers has seen more quickness elsewhere this summer.
"A.J. Johnson has gotten a lot quicker," Lathers said of his fellow inside linebacker. "I can tell you from watching him last year, he's a lot quicker in his reads, his first step, getting down field and in his decisions.
"I'm excited to play with those guys, A.J. and Curt Maggitt."
Johnson and Maggitt both started last season as freshmen. Johnson was the Vols' second-leading tackler, and Maggitt was fourth in tackles.
"We watch a lot of film and study the playbook together," Lathers said.
Lathers' summer studies have raised his comfort level in the new defensive scheme. And he's comfortable enough to think he can help the rest of his teammates on defense.
"He knows that playbook in and out," Waggner said. "And he's getting those young linebackers and down linemen in there looking at film."
That's another example of the greater role Lathers has assumed. He's taking leadership as seriously as his linebacking.
"Without leadership, we're going to have another season like last year," he said.