As he lay in his hospital bed last Nov. 3, Tennessee offensive tackle Michael Mu�oz must have wondered what else could go wrong. He had already sat out the 2001 season following surgery on his left knee, and though he'd come back to reclaim his starting slot, he had been playing with his broken right hand in a cast and a bum left shoulder that would also require surgery. But when Mu�oz, the son of Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Mu�oz, awoke that November morning, his lower left leg had swollen considerably because of a staph infection. The 6'6", 305-pound Mu�oz spent the next five days in the hospital, watching game film in the vain hope of returning the next week against Miami. "I've had multiple surgeries, but that was the most pain I've ever had," Mu�oz says. "You couldn't do anything to get comfortable." Yet when asked for last season's low point, Mu�oz points not to that miserable time but to the humiliating 30-3 loss to Maryland in the Peach Bowl, in which the Volunteers looked to be beset by selfishness and a lack of discipline. "I didn't come to Tennessee to go 8-5," Mu�oz says.
In January the players called a meeting and chose their own captains, including Mu�oz, a junior. They also decided that if anyone missed the "voluntary" players-only workouts this summer, everyone would run 10 gassers—sprints the width of the field—at 7 a.m. The punishment was doled out just once before the message got through. "We're still molding ourselves back to what we want to be," says coach Phillip Fulmer, "but this has been a fun team to be around, whereas last year's was not."
There's enough talent on hand to expect a turnaround. Senior quarterback Casey Clausen has started 31 games and ranks ahead of Peyton Manning in career passing percentage (63.2 to 62.5). Fulmer says his linebacking crew—junior Kevin Burnett, sophomores Kevin Simon and Jason Mitchell, and senior Robert Peace—may be as good as the one on his '98 national title team. Tennessee also welcomes back four regular starters on the offensive line, which bodes well for a return to the Volunteers' traditional power running game.
Of course, it always helps to have some added motivation, and last season's failures provide just that. "Guys are definitely hungry for the season to start," Mu�oz says. "We don't want a repeat of last year."
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