Ethan Wolf kicked off his college career with high expectations.
He became the first freshman tight end in Tennessee history to start in a season opener. The Vols have a rich history at the position, including former All-Pro Jason Witten. Wolf has drawn comparisons to Witten, who he said he models his own game after.
As the freshman emerged as a potential starter in preseason, he got the chance to meet his idol when the former Vol attended a team practice.
“I grew up watching Jason play, and he came over here and worked out with us,” Wolf told GoVols247. “He inspired me as a tight end, so I figured I’d honor him by wearing his jersey number that he wears in the NFL. Unfortunately I couldn’t get No. 1 because Jalen’s got it, but I’m proud to wear No. 82.”
Wolf recorded 23 catches for 212 yards in his debut season. However, the Minister, Ohio native battled injuries, despite missing just one game.
Wolf’s debut season was a learning process and, despite his struggles, proved to showcase his potential. In Year Two, he looks to learn from his experience and continue his development.
“The next step is just to take what I had last year and build on it,’’ Wolf told the Knoxville News Sentinel in April. He’s also improved his conditioning during the offseason and credits his leaner frame to his improved route running.
“Just trimming my body fat down and replacing it with muscle,’’ he said. “That’s allowed me to come in and out of my breaks faster and just overall be faster in a straight line.’’
Tennessee enters the upcoming season with high expectations. The Vols return more starters than any other SEC team, including many who — like Wolf — saw time as true freshmen and sophomores in 2014.
The Vols had enough talent to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2009. However, the team lacked experience and fell short in several close games.
In 2015, the young nucleus is expected to see vast improvement with a year of gained experience. Wolf is no exception and should provide Tennessee with a solid option at tight end.
He has the intangibles to excel as both a receiving option and blocker, much like Witten. Wolf’s abilities provide the perfect complement to dual-threat quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
Wolf will continue to draw comparisons to Witten as he continues his progression. The rising sophomore should enjoy a stellar second season en route to a historic career in Knoxville.