Tennessee LB Lathers puts pain behind him
Forgive Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers if he doesn’t fret
too much over a strained quadriceps muscle that has limited him for
much of the preseason.
Lathers already has overcome far greater maladies.
The fifth-year senior spent much of his youth battling bone
cancer. He fought that disease with the same tenacity he now uses
to fight off blockers. Just as he was developing into one of
Tennessee’s most reliable defenders, Lathers fractured his left
ankle and missed the entire 2011 season.
Now that Lathers finally has a chance to return, he doesn’t plan
to let an aching quad keep him off the field. Although the injury
has limited him during the preseason, Lathers expects to be ready
Friday when the Volunteers open their season against North Carolina
State at the Georgia Dome.
”I’m real eager,” Lathers said. ”I’ll have a whole lot of
jitters. I’ve just got to calm myself down before the game. I know
I’ve been here before, been in a big game before. I just have to
calm myself down and play ball.”
Lathers’ teammates are equally antsy to see him back in action.
His return should make linebacker a position of strength for
While Lathers sat out last season, linebackers A.J. Johnson and
Curt Maggitt cracked the starting lineup as freshmen. They enter
their sophomore seasons as the Volunteers’ top two returning
tacklers. New Vols defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri has said
Maggitt and Johnson ”might be the finest young linebackers that I
have ever coached.”
Lathers’ comeback ought to aid their development.
”It’s fair to say if Herman is healthy, that is one of our
strengths,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. ”That is the
strength of our defense because Curt, Herman and A.J. have all
proven that they can play good, winning football in this league. No
other position has that, in fact, on the whole team. Nobody else
has gone 12 games and proven they can be good. That’s a strength,
but we need to keep them healthy because depth is a real
Staying healthy has been a major issue for Lathers.
Lathers said he was about 10 years old when he got diagnosed
with cancer. He spent five years receiving treatment and wondering
if he’d ever get to play the game he loved.
”When I was going through it, I didn’t think it was a
possibility I’d ever play any sports,” Lathers said. ”Once I got
free of it and actually started playing sports, it was a dream come
Lathers’ physical problems have continued at Tennessee.
He had his spleen removed. He underwent shoulder surgery. Then
came the ankle injury.
”It’s helped me realize that football’s a game of injuries,”
Lathers said. ”You’re going to get injured. You can’t let one
injury slow you down and let one injury change your whole mood
about playing football. It helped me a lot, helped me cope with a
lot of things. Now I’m able to just help inspire my teammates who
are going through injuries.”
When he’s been healthy, Lathers has made a difference. Lathers
moved into the starting lineup midway through his redshirt freshman
season in 2009 and ranked second on the team with 75 tackles in
Lathers provides experience to a defense that remains relatively
young. Lathers is the only projected senior starter in Tennessee’s
”His maturity is probably the most important thing,” Sunseri
said. ”He is a guy who is very smart and very sharp, so his
leadership skills are very important. He is going to get people
lined up and he is going to be able to make plays.”
Lathers’ leadership could prove essential in helping Tennessee
make the transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 alignment under
Sunseri, who spent the last three years coaching Alabama’s
linebackers. Lathers’ teammates marvel at the hours he spends
”If any of the linebackers have questions, you can ask Herm,”
junior linebacker Channing Fugate said. ”He will help you with
anything. He really is smooth. He knows the playbook in and out,
and he knows a lot, so we look to him if we have a question on the
Lathers savors the opportunity to answer those questions on the
field instead of on the sideline.