When Tennessee tight end Justin Meredith sat down with Vols coach Butch Jones earlier this year to talk about his future, Jones leaned forward and shared a story from his past.
Rather than be demoralized by a career-ending injury as a young man at Ferris State in Michigan, Jones used the opportunity to get an early start on his coaching career.
Meredith has a chance to follow the same path. The redshirt freshman from Anderson, S.C., has been officially transferred to medical exemption status because of a recurring hamstring injury, his father told the News Sentinel.
“The coaches and staff told me that everything Justin did was with maximum effort,” said Chuck Meredith. “His grades were great. His attitude was great. As a father, that made me proud.”
A member of the Class of 2012 signed by former coach Derek Dooley’s staff, Meredith enrolled early in January with the hope of getting an early start on rehabbing a pesky hamstring injury that had first cropped up in high school.
But he was forced to acknowledge this year after a lengthy rehab and a battery of tests that his career would end without having played a college snap.
The elder Meredith said he was told by trainers that his son frequently reached a 90-percent plateau, but the hamstring started to fray when he went at full speed on long routes. Meredith said his son could literally feel the hamstring beginning to pull apart during long runs, and large bruises on his thigh showed this was no ordinary tweaked muscle.
Meredith has spent much of this season working with coaches. He helps the strength staff during pre-practice stretch, spends time with the scout team during game-week prep and pitches in to help tight ends coach Mark Elder with whatever he needs.
As a medically exempt player, he won’t count against the 85-man scholarship limit, but he’ll continue to receive full tuition, room and board and all the other benefits promised in his athletic scholarship.
A sports management major, Meredith plans to enter the finance program next semester, so he’ll have ample post-college career options. But he is intrigued by coaching. And his work with Jones’ staff could be a nice foot in the door of the business.
Most importantly, Meredith is happy to be contributing something after a frustrating year spent fighting the stubborn injury.
“Last year, he didn’t have a role,” the elder Meredith said. “Both coach Dooley and coach Jones emphasized the importance of filling your role, doing what you can to help make the team better. Even on the scout team, you’re able to do that. Justin would tell me, ‘I just want to fill a role, to be able to help the team.’”
Now, as a student assistant, Meredith has found that niche.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him on Twitter.