Tennessee linebacker Elijah Herring made the first start of his collegiate career in the Vols’ win over Austin Peay Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium.
Herring moved into the starting lineup because senior Keenan Pili missed the game due to injury. Still, it was quite the achievement for Herring who went from three-star recruit to starting in the second game of his sophomore year.
But sports, and football in particular, have a way of humbling you. Twice on Austin Peay’s first drive, Herring was hit to the ground by a blocker. First, Herring was legally knocked down on a double pass. Later in the drive, Austin Peay ran a reverse and as Herring chased the ball carrier, a Governor offensive lineman knocked him to the ground with an illegal blindside block.
Asked about the two plays Monday, Herring had to laugh at it.
“Hard head makes it soft,” Herring said jokingly. “That really was a ‘welcome to college football’ for me, again. It really made me more aware of what’s outside of me, around me.”
Getting your welcome to college football moment against Austin Peay is surprising enough on its own. It coming in his sophomore season while making his first start added to the surprise of the situation.
Herring said that he had a welcome to college football moment last year, taking a hit while blocking on a kick return against Alabama but that ‘it wasn’t anything crazy but it was a good little hit.’
“This is most definitely No. 1,” Herring said of his new welcome to college football moment.
After a tough first drive, Herring found his rhythm the rest of the game. The sophomore inside linebacker totaled four tackles in the win and earned a 66.2 PFF grade for his performance.
With Pili sidelined indefinitely, Tennessee updated its depth chart naming Herring the permanent starter while the BYU transfer works his way back into the lineup.
“Destructive. Communicated at a high level,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said of Herring. “He’s a young guy that his best football is going to continue to come down the pipe, man. Great confidence in him, but from the rest of the guys that played, too. Saw a lot of things that we liked.”
Herring gets his first big test as Tennessee’s starting MIKE linebacker Saturday when the Vols open up SEC play at Florida Saturday night. Kickoff from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville is at 7 p.m. ET. Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Holly Rowe are on the call for ESPN.