Young Defensive Ends Players to Watch for 2016 Battle at Bristol
In his freshman season, Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett is quickly etching his name into both the SEC record books and Volunteer lore.
The Nashville, Tenn. native has set the Tennessee record for most tackles for loss (18.0) and most sacks (9.0) by a true freshman, ranking him seventh on the school's all-time single season list. Twice he has posted the Tennessee record for sacks in a game by a true freshman, and leads all true freshman in the SEC with 56 tackles.
Head Coach Butch Jones is impressed with the current SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week, an honor Barnett earned after racking up 4.0 tackles for loss and two sacks against Kentucky.
"We always talk about flipping the switch when you step on the football field, and he's been able to do that - very, very intense," said Jones following Tuesday's practice. "Again, consistent each and every day with his approach, his demeanor, the way he plays the game.
"A very, very competitive young man, and (I am) very excited about the last few games with him and the future at that position with him leading that position."
In 2016, Barnett leads the Tennessee Volunteers onto the biggest stage in college football history - the Battle at Bristol. The contest pits the Vols against border rival Virginia Tech in a game expected to attract an estimated 150,000 fans, crushing the current NCAA attendance record.
Redshirt sophomore Ken Ekanem battled injuries his first two years at Virginia Tech, but in 2014 the 6-foot-3, 249-pound defensive end is emerging as a leader on the Hokie line.
"I think he's starting to look like the guy we recruited," said Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster.
One of the state's top recruits in 2012, the Centreville, Va. resident was valued for his speed and disruption ability. His three-sack, four tackles-for-loss game at North Carolina made for one of the Hokies's most productive games under Foster's grading system, earning Ekanem ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors.
In 2016, Ekanem has the opportunity to showcase his developing strength at Bristol Motor Speedway during college football's largest game. The iconic half-mile short track transforms into a world-class football stadium for the Sept. 10 contest, pitting the Hokies against the Tennessee Volunteers in a match-up expected to set the NCAA single-game attendance record.