UT safety Max Arnold, pushing for playing time, knew walk-on journey wouldn't be easy

Arnold knew journey would not be easy

Max Arnold

Max Arnold

Max Arnold

Max Arnold

Max Arnold didn’t necessarily feel slighted when coaches would walk past him without saying a word last year.

He knew that thankless anonymity was just part of being a walk-on, and he expected few perks when he decided to come to Tennessee rather than play football at a smaller school.

But when the new staff arrived last December, something changed. Suddenly, he didn’t feel like a walk-on, but just a football player.

Arnold was one of the pleasant surprises of the spring, capping the session with an interception return for a touchdown in the Orange and White game.

“It obviously felt good, seeing the results of my hard work in the offseason, but nothing is written in stone,” Arnold said.

The depth chart — written on paper — says Arnold began the spring listed as the second-team safety. In some first-week team drills, Arnold worked with the first group.

“I’m not going to count myself out,” he said. “Whether I’m on the depth chart or not, I always feel like I have a chance.”

A third-year sophomore, Arnold was a quarterback at McKenzie, a small town in West Tennessee located between the more exotically named cities of Milan and Paris (and also not far from Dresden).

“I felt very well prepared coming up here,” Arnold said of his high school experience.

Rather than pursue a scholarship at a smaller school, he opted to attend Tennessee, the school he had grown up cheering for.

He arrived with no illusions.

“I knew it was going to take a long time with no payoffs,” Arnold said. “You’re going to walk by coaches and they’re not going to notice you.”

That changed in December.

“This staff right now? We’re all family,” Arnold said. “A coach would never walk by me and not say, ‘Hello.’ Me or any other walk-on. We’re a brotherhood. We’re tight.”

Arnold was named an “Iron Vol” in the spring, an award recognizing hard work in the weight room. That was a bigger deal to Arnold than the spring interception that captured more attention from outside.

“We have so many hard workers on this team. People have no idea how hard we work,” he said. “The award meant a lot to me because it was voted on by my teammates ... There’s so many guys they could have voted for. I didn’t vote for myself.”

Arnold’s path to playing time will likely include the special teams, which is where head coach Butch Jones said he must continue to focus effort. At safety, he will have to fend off an influx of youthful competition, but Arnold still has a chance to stay in defensive backs coach Willie Martinez’s rotation as the season approaches.

Arnold said he’s reached one goal already. After being worried to even drink the Gatorade when he first arrived, he now feels “needed.” He knows he’s in a position to be more than practice fodder.

“As a walk-on, that’s really what you want,” he said. “You want to feel needed and wanted on the team. When you get that feeling and feel appreciated, it just makes you hungrier.”

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 23

snafu14u#241639 writes:

Mr Arnold, nice work and great attitude. This is what makes UT a special place. The role of walk-on is a labor of love. When you get on the field during a game you know you beat the odds. Kudos to you. Go Big Orange.....Bonzai Vol

TNORANGEDOGDAD writes:

Sounds like there is a complete attitude change among players and coaching staff. Keep working as a Team and maybe we just might surprise a few opponents.

RoadTrip writes:

If there was ever an indictment against Dools, this article clearly identified it. I am so glad that doofus is gone. Go gettum Max! Happy you stuck it out with a real head coach and staff.

WetumpkaThumpa writes:

Dooley was smug and not personable like his mentor Nick Saban, he just couldn't coach like him.

BluezVol writes:

Walk by a young man giving his all and not speak? Sounds like middle-school mentality.

tovolny writes:

Players like Max Arnold are so appreciated. He is a native Tennessee guy who, no doubt,loves Volunteer Football. For a walk-on to just make the team is fantastic. Now, it looks like he has the tools and attitude to contribute.

I wish somebody would put together a book called 'UT Walk-ons.' The book could explain how and why they chose UT, and then relate to us their accomplishments after graduation. I'd buy it on first site. It would be a good book for February and March.

Snapshot writes:

in response to WetumpkaThumpa:

Dooley was smug and not personable like his mentor Nick Saban, he just couldn't coach like him.

I remember an Ala. player, can't recall his name, who said Saban treated him the same way. He would pass players in the hall and refused to speak to them.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Hey Cuz...maybe. My grandma was an Arnold and my middle name is after her. Don't tell anybody.

Go Max and great job so far! Go UT!

HooRay_Vol writes:

RUUUUUUUUDYYYYYY!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to HooRay_Vol:

RUUUUUUUUDYYYYYY!

Rudy was not a good footballer. He was a good hobbit though.

RockySwamp writes:

Good luck. I hope you get a chance to play.

Chappy writes:

“A coach would never walk by me and not say, ‘Hello.’ Me or any other walk-on. We’re a brotherhood. We’re tight.”

This speaks volumes about this coaching staff (especailly coming from a walk-on). This may be a down year in terms of W's, but let's thank our lucky stars we've got Butch and his guys driving the bus!

DC82_Vol writes:

I remember an article about a kid from La. Tech that said Dooley would never acknowledge players he would pass in the hallway or where ever. Then the next coach comes in and they start winnning. Hope we follow that trend.

irnmanvol writes:

Best read of the day, Mr.Arnold just picked up a new fan...G.B.O!!!

johnlg00 writes:

I have relatives all over Max's stomping grounds. Lots of "country-strong" people, most of whom lived into their 90's. Don't know if Max is a country person himself, but he probably was raised by some. No decent team can have too many guys like Max. I bet we hear a lot more from this young man before he is through.

mikethehistorystudent writes:

This is a better Rudy story than Rudy. This kid works hard and is passionate. His team wouldn't vote for him as the hardest working in the weight room if he weren't dedicated and worthy of it. This is a great story about determination. Good job Max!

SewaneeVolFan writes:

Love what I hear about this young man, and love what I hear about the coaching staff. Obviously, Saban's way works, too, but I love to hear a walk-on's certainty that no UT coach would walk past any UT player without speaking to him. The Vols don't have great talent yet, but that kind of togetherness and that kind of coaching outlook is going to win some games no one thought UT would win, and it will lead to even better times ahead.

mloaks#222092 writes:

well, I have a new favorite player now!

VolInIndy writes:

in response to Snapshot:

I remember an Ala. player, can't recall his name, who said Saban treated him the same way. He would pass players in the hall and refused to speak to them.

That was Sentimore. He got treated the same way in the draft.

LiveFaith writes:

Didn't Max's dad Benedict coach here a few years ago, then take a job out west?

frblalack writes:

Great Job, Mr. Max!!! Proud that you're a Tennessee Vol!

Wear the Orange & White with distinction! Your workout effort speaks volumes about your character!

All Vols - All the Time - I bleed Big Orange!!!

oldster writes:

The Vols have not had a white defensive back since 1985 (well, Ryan Karl played a little before moving to LB). That guy, Chris White, led the league and maybe the country in interceptions, I believe. Oh, and he came to UT as a QB, too. Could lightening strike twice almost 30 years apart?

oldster writes:

in response to LiveFaith:

Didn't Max's dad Benedict coach here a few years ago, then take a job out west?

Good one!

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