Two years after Derrick Brodus gave up football for the sport he said he truly loved, the former Alcoa soccer star is once again pounding field goals through the uprights, this time for the University of Tennessee.
Brodus performed well in last weekend’s Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium despite unfavorable conditions.
“I feel like I got a lot better this spring,” he said, “just getting out there and kicking was good.”
Brodus’ White squad methodically moved the ball up down the field for most of the afternoon in the final spring scrimmage, allowing the former Tornado to connect on three extra points and a 27-yard field goal on the way to a 24-7 White victory. The left-footed, redshirt freshman also handled the kickoff duties for the victorious side but averaged only 50.6 yards per kick, strong winds that swirled inside the stadium the entire afternoon a contributing factor.
“On kickoffs, because of the wind, my kicks were just hanging up the air.” Brodus said. “I really couldn’t put any distance on it.”
Orange team counterpart and sophomore returning starter Michael Palardy also struggled with the wind in getting his two kickoffs inside the 10-yard line. The successful showing by Brodus was part of an afternoon where two additional former Tornadoes also made the bids for playing time come fall. Redshirt freshman running back JaRon Toney and senior defensive lineman Rae Sykes both dressed for the Orange squad, both having an impact on the day’s proceedings.
While at Alcoa, Brodus forced touchbacks on his kickoffs at a staggering rate, but, late in his junior year, was forced to choose between kicking for the eventual state champions and his nationally-ranked club soccer team. Having played the game since childhood, Brodus chose soccer.
“I don’t regret it,” he said. “At the time, I loved playing soccer and my team was ranked in the top ten in the nation.”
After giving up football, Brodus would play competitive soccer all 12 months of the year, but he never lost the desire to return to the gridiron. This offseason, Brodus decided to give football one more shot, joining the team as walk-on to compete for the kickoff and place-kicker job.
Toney, the state record-holder for rushing touchdowns in a season, feels he laid a solid foundation for himself this spring as he moves into summer workouts with the Volunteers.
“I feel like I had a pretty good spring,” the Vol redshirt freshman said. “I need to work on getting bigger in summer workouts and improve by blocking going into the fall.”
Toney suited up for the Orange in the spring contest but only had two carries, largely due to the squad’s inability to get anything going offensively. Discounting two sacks of quarterback Tyler Bray, the Orange rushed the ball a total of 12 times. Comparatively, the Bray-led offense attempted 30 passes, connecting on just five of them.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley made note of the disparity after the game, expressing his disappointment that the Orange team did not use a physical running game more often.
“I told the team that it doesn’t matter what kind of game it is; the team that runs the football has got the best chance of winning,” he said. “The White went blue collar and punched them right in the mouth and that was fun to watch.”
The abundance of passing did allow Toney plenty of opportunities to hone his pass blocking skills, and, in the Orange’s most successful offensive moment, Toney was there to protect his quarterback.
On third down early in the third quarter, the White team defense sent an aggressive blitz that allowed 270-pound defensive end Marlon Walls to rush into the backfield untouched, his gaze focused squarely on Bray. Just as a sack appeared imminent, Toney, who is listed at 180 pounds, stepped in front of Bray to halt Walls in his tracks, allowing Bray to complete a 54-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mychal Rivera.
“I was thinking, ‘Dang, that’s a big boy coming at me,’” Toney said, “but it’s my job to pick him up so that we can get the pass off.”
In the scrimmage the week prior to the Orange and White Game, Toney was third on the team in rushing with six attempts, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
With the Vols bringing in two highly-touted running back recruits next fall, Toney will have to work especially hard to maintain his spot in the rotation, but hard work is nothing new for the 2009 Gatorade State Player of the Year.
“Even back in high school I was smaller than the running backs in front of me,” Toney said, “but I’ve always said to myself, ‘If I work harder than him, that will show and I’ll get out on the field.’”
Sykes made the first tackle of the game playing defensive end for the Orange squad. Used primarily on the interior of the line last season, the Volunteer senior took every snap at left defensive end on Saturday. The move looks as if it will allow the 6-foot-2, 275-pound allows Sykes to be more active in the pass rush.
He spent much of Saturday chasing the opposing quarterbacks out of the pocket but came up just shy of earning a sack on multiple occasions.