David Klein
Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: This is the third of a six-part series previewing Tennessee’s fall sports that begin in August and September.
Men’s cross country coach George Watts talked recently about the expectations for his team.
“We have 18 runners and most of our top runners are back,” the 10th-year coach said.
The team opens its season September 9 at the University of Tennessee at the Chattanooga 5K Invitational.
As always, Watts said the goal of his team is to do well at the SEC championship meet and the regional championship, while in the process qualifying for November’s NCAA Championships at Terre Haute, Ind.
The top two schools at the regional meet in early November qualify for the NCAA championships.
But Watts knows it’s a long season, and he doesn’t want his team to peak too early.
“We have to stay consistent in training,” he said. “We don’t want to break down physically.”
With the number of runners he has coming back, Watts said his team should be better than the squad that finished a disappointing fifth at last year’s SEC championship.
“We’re going to keep focusing on the SEC championship and we’ll be much improved,” Watts said. “We’re as hard working as a group as any athletes on this campus. We have skinny little distance runners but they’re as tough as any athlete out there.”
One of those tough athletes is sophomore Tyler DeVault.
DeVault, a West Virginia native, originally signed with the University of West Virginia program in 2001. However, after his freshman year, DeVault was told that the Mountaineers’ program was going to be cut. He, along with junior Zach Sabatino and sophomore Ben Lukowski, decided to transfer to Watts’ program.
“I have made it (UT) a new home and have been accepted here,” said DeVault, who finished third in the 2003 Big East steeplechase championship.
DeVault said the decision to make Tennessee home was really quite easy.
“The SEC is the best track conference in the nation, and I leaped at the chance to run for the Volunteers,” he said.
Along with senior and 2003 co-captain Matthew Lapp, DeVault is heading a team that should make considerable strides come postseason time.
According to DeVault, the men’s cross country team will have all the runners that ran in the SEC and the regionals coming back with 18 total runners on the roster, saying this year’s squad is “a step above last year’s.”
Last season DeVault, who totes a 3.5 GPA, suffered a stress fracture in his femur that hampered him from having the kind of season he wanted, but he says he is healthy and ready to go.
Above all, the 6-foot-3, 165-pounder is just glad to have somewhere he can compete again.
“I have no doubts about my choice to come here,” he said. “It has been a good choice.”