Unlike a wide-eyed freshman, nothing is exactly new for Tennessee defensive end Curt Maggitt, but he does enter the 2014 season hoping for a fresh start after injuries ravaged the better part of his first three years on campus.
There was the lingering high school shoulder injury his freshman year, and his sophomore season brought turf toe, an everlasting shoulder stinger and an eventual season-ending ACL injury.
After multiple surgeries, and some frustratingly long recovery time, Maggitt sat out all of the 2013 season.
An ankle injury is currently nagging Maggitt during fall camp, but all indications are that his coaches have held him back for precautionary measures, making sure he’s ready for the season, because Tennessee needs a healthy Maggitt in 2014.
“We missed Curt a lot [last season] because we know what he can bring to the table,” said linebacker A.J. Johnson, who is Maggitt’s roommate. “He’s like a brother to me and we missed him a lot. We know how much he’s going to help us and how much work he’s put in to get back to be ready for this season.”
What the Vols missed was an elite pass-rusher and finisher. Last season, Tennessee was last in the SEC with 18 sacks and 12th in the league with 65 tackles for loss.
Getting Maggitt back – and fully healthy – would be a major upgrade for a team completely rebuilding its defensive line. Maggitt will line up all over at linebacker this fall, but will spend most of his time with his hand in the ground at defensive end, a position Maggitt said he prefers to outside linebacker.
Maggitt has endured a career-long struggle with his body at Tennessee. The once-prized recruit from West Palm Beach, Florida, arrived in Knoxville and promptly recorded 56 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, despite a surgically repaired shoulder that needed surgery again after the season.
In 2012, Maggitt suffered a nasty case of turf toe in the season opener when his foot got caught in the turf of the Georgia Dome while he blocked NC State quarterback Mike Glennon during an interception return by teammate Prentiss Waggner.
Trainers made him a thick, plastic cast for his toe, which forced him to wear a size 14 shoe on his right foot and a normal size 13 on his left.
“You really realize how important that big toe is,” Maggitt said. “Every time I would try to plant or push off of it, it would hurt.”
The cast helped, but it created an awkward, wobbly running style. Maggitt couldn’t stop properly on his right foot, which he thinks resulted in his subsequent ACL injury against Missouri on Nov. 10, while landing awkwardly on his right foot after hurdling Mizzou quarterback James Franklin.
Maggitt missed spring and part of summer before he, his father, Roosevelt, and coach Butch Jones decided to officially shut his season down after the Oregon game.
The heart of Tennessee’s defense was forced to helplessly sit and watch, as the Vols suffered through Jones’ inaugural 5-7 season.
“When he’s been playing ball since he was 9 years old, it’s really tough because he has it in his bloodstream to be out there,” Maggitt’s father said. “No matter the intensity level of the game, whether it’s in the backyard, he loves playing. It was tough for him.”
Maggitt said he got down on himself a lot and needed extra comfort from his teammates at times. His injuries kept him away from football and normal workouts. He went from having a max bench press of 330 pounds to not being able to lift the bar.
While he still assumed the role of the team’s top leader, Maggitt felt the pain of separation during road games, when Maggitt couldn’t travel.
“It was weird because since Day 1 when I was a freshman, I was never left behind,” Maggitt said. “It was kind of a salty feeling, feeling like you’re being left, put up for adoption almost.”
However, Maggitt found his release by taking advantage of his time away from the field. He recorded his highest GPA of 3.5 for a semester and began to plan for a future without football.
Very personable, Maggitt’s interest in becoming a sales rep for a business drew him to an internship with Omega Technical Services in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. There, Maggitt shadowed a business developer and did everyday work, like writing and sending emails, organizing meetings and sitting in on meetings with potential clients.
The day-to-day work helping to organize and develop a business really interested Maggitt, but that’s for the future. For now, his focus is on getting back on the field and making an impact for his team.
Maggitt is excited about having a more versatile role within Tennessee’s defense and already knows the first time he steps on the field he’ll have his eyes pierced on the quarterback lining up opposite him, waiting to make first contact.
“I’m excited about that,” he said. “It’s been a long time, especially in Neyland [Stadium]. “If I get a sack in Neyland, man, I might just end up laying on the ground for a little bit and soak that moment up.”