Sunday night can’t get here fast enough for Curt Maggitt. The junior linebacker/defensive end, or “hybrid” as he put it, hasn’t played a snap for Tennessee since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the fourth quarter of a four-overtime loss to Missouri in November of 2012, but his wait is nearly over.
Curt and the coaching staff decided it would be best if he took the 2013 season off to rehab his knee and return 100-percent healthy for the this year. Everything was going as planned until an ankle injury sidelined him early in fall camp. But the always-smiling Maggitt assured the assembled media after practice on Wednesday that he is healthy, he is hungry, and he is ready to take the field against Utah State on Sunday night.
It will be an emotional time for Curt. The Palm Beach Gardens, Florida native has worked extremely hard on and off the field over the last 21 months to be in the position he is now. He is a team leader and a pivotal player at two positions in the Vols 4-3 scheme on defense – and he knows that his team needs him.
“It’s going to be emotional, for sure,” Maggitt said when asked about taking the field on Sunday. “It’s been a real long time since I’ve been out there and ran through the ‘T’ and actually suited up. I’m no longer a cheerleader, I’ve got to go out there and do it.”
With word quickly spreading that Sunday’s game is on the verge of being a sellout, everyone in the complex realizes that the reality of the all-important season opener is upon them. Missing last season has left Maggitt chomping at the bit to kickoff the 2014 season, and word of a possible sellout only intensifies his craving.
“I’ve missed it a lot. We’ve got some loyal fans, passionate fans. I’m excited to go out there and give them a show. I’m passionate about the game and I’m just ready to play again. I know it’s going to be a packed house, so I’m excited. It’s like a homecoming, kind of.”
But it’s not just the fans that Curt plans on playing for. He is well aware that he has 10 other players on the defense that are depending on him during every play. That responsibility and his unwavering commitment to his teammates is what drives Maggitt, and he knows that many of those same teammates will be getting their first taste of real collegiate football this weekend. Curt says he won’t be spending his time trying to settle them down, however, all he wants them to do is focus on the moment.
“The guys to my left and right. The purpose I’m doing this for – the reason why I play the game. I know the guys are going to be looking at me a lot…A lot of people are going to be looking at me a lot. I’m just excited to go out there and play football.
“I’m not really trying to calm them down, I want them excited. It’s going to be crazy for them because it’s going to be a packed house, there’s not going to be a seat available. I’m just going to tell them to focus on the game, focus on the task at hand. One play at a time. You’re excited, you’re nervous and whatnot. But at the first line up, you tune everything else out. You focus on what’s in front of you. That’s what I’m going to encourage the younger guys to do, just focus and play fast.”
When asked if it will feel different to take the field as a team leader in 2014, Maggitt admitted that it would be. After all, his last action came as a second-year sophomore – and now he’s a fourth-year junior. But Curt isn’t worried, he feels like his teammates know what they’ll get from him when he takes the field…
“That is going to be a little bit different (being an on-field leader). I don’t know, I’m just going to play football and I’m going to lead the guys. They know that if they have any questions that they can come to me and I’m going to give them the best I’ve got. I’m going to give them everything I’ve got for four quarters.
When head coach Butch Jones was asked on Wednesday about Curt Maggitt’s ability to keep his emotions in check and lead this team on Sunday, the head coach was short and direct in his reply. While most coaches would probably take it upon themselves to test the waters and check in with a player in Maggitts position, Jones knows that it isn’t necessary.
“Curt Understands,” Jones said. “He’s mature beyond his years. We haven’t had to have that talk, he’s a very steady individual.”
After the ‘T’ opens and the ball is kicked off on Sunday night, Maggitt knows that he and his team will be facing a worthy opponent in Utah State. Aggie quarterback Chucky Keeton has the eyes of a nation watching to see if he can come into Knoxville and leave as a winner. Maggitt knows what to expect, but he isn’t worried. He feels like he and his team have put in the necessary work to ensure victory over their opponent.
By relying on hard work and a mantra of Tennessee’s past, Maggitt and his team have already set the stage for future success.
“It started in the spring and it started with effort. Effort and execution. We hold each other accountable. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win – that’s a motto we live by.”
Good to have you back, Curt.