October 6, 2008

JUCO DT headed east to Vols

Never mind that Jonathan Hollins grew up in an SEC town, signed with a rising Big 12 power and has spent the past two seasons in a California junior college.

The big, powerful defensive lineman has been "a Tennessee fan as long as I can remember," he said.

In a few months, Hollins will get the opportunity to be a University of Tennessee player. Roughly a month after de-committing from Texas Tech, where he signed out of high school in Baton Rouge, La., Hollins verbally committed to Vols head coach Phillip Fulmer on Monday.

"Well, like I've been a Tennessee fan as long as I can remember," said the confident Hollins, who answered every question with "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" greetings. "I love the tradition the program has. When they offered me, it was like an honor and dream come true. It's SEC football, Tennessee, I couldn't pass up on that one."

Still being recruited by the Red Raiders and LSU, among several other programs, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Hollins -- No. 45 on Rivals top 100 junior college players -- felt his declaration of becoming a Vol would help him focus on his final two-plus months at College of the Canyons (Santa Clarita, Calif.) -- both on the field and in the classroom. With 4.5 sacks this season and "about 15 solo tackles," Hollins will have three years to play two seasons at Tennessee.

"During this process, I talked to all of them," Hollins said of his interactions with the Vols' coaches. "It's just been amazing. I talked to coach Fulmer, all of the guys. They just welcomed me with open arms.
"I was talking to coach Fulmer earlier today, and he asked me when I wanted to make it official. I just took a chance and did it."

Hollins acknowledged that the ability to compete for early playing time factored heavily into his decision. By enrolling in January, he'll have the opportunity to vie for a starting spot along a defensive front that loses seniors Demonte Bolden, Robert Ayers, Walter Fisher and potentially junior Dan Williams, who has zoomed onto the radar of NFL scouts with a breakout start to the 2008 season.

"That's major, sir. Major," Hollins said of stepping in and competing right away. "They saw my film, said they like my body frame. I can play inside or D-end. It's getting there and whatever they need me to play, I'm all for it."

On a loaded College of the Canyons squad that tops the California junior college rankings, Hollins said he's faced a plethora of offensive schemes this season.

"It's going good. Our team is 5-0, and right now I'm playing nose tackle," Hollins said. "I've seen it all, double-teams, triples, quadruples, I've seen it all."

While Hollins said he's been playing defensive end so long that it "fits perfect," he wants to play wherever the Vols need him.

"Whatever it takes," he said, "I'm all for it."

And he'll recruit some of his teammates to Knoxville if he can.

"To be honest, our team is stacked. We've got the No. 1 receiver in junior college (Hayo Carpenter, No. 11 on top 100 JuCo players, No. 3 WR), our O-line has big guys, the d-line, everyone is just going to be crazy. It's quite interesting. We've got good guys everywhere. I don't think anyone has declared.

"We have some big guys, good guys, good character. Whatever comes (in recruiting), I'm pretty sure they will be willing to take it on."

And ultimately, it was the chance to take on a new setting that led Hollins to choose the Vols.

"LSU, they were recruiting me, too, but that's close to home and I feel comfortable talking to coach Fulmer," he said. "Everybody contacted me and made me feel wanted. That's a good fit."

But won't he take some grief from the LSU crowd back home?

"I guess they'll see me back," Hollins said, "but not in a good manner."

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