Caleb Owen
Staff Writer

Two short years ago, James Adkins, a then-rookie from Mt. Juliet, jetted into the Tennessee record books by obliterating the freshman strikeout record. He would go on to earn freshman All-American honors in a memorable season highlighted by a dominating 12-strikeout showing against South Carolina in the SEC tournament and a 15-strikeout performance versus Winthrop in the NCAA regional.
In 2006, however, Adkins had no such opportunities to showcase his skills on the postseason stage. Both Adkins and the Tennessee baseball team were unable to duplicate their 2005 success in last year’s campaign, as the team failed to reach the postseason.
“I didn’t have the best year last year,” Adkins said. “I expect more from myself; I’m planning to turn a lot of heads this year.”
While Adkins’ 2006 record of 8-6 with a 4.50 earned run average in 16 starts is certainly respectable, the fact is the Vols wilted when confronted with the SEC schedule. Redemption for Adkins and the Vols begins today in Tallahassee, when the Diamond Vols begin their 2007 campaign against the Florida State Seminoles.
Tennessee opens the season as the nation’s 11th-ranked team, and Adkins begins the year as a preseason all-SEC pick. Adkins is also being slated as the league’s fifth-best pro prospect, according to Baseball America. But Adkins is much more concerned about doing his part in getting the team to the College Baseball World Series than accumulating individual accolades.
“My individual goals are to be the best leader that I can, on and off the field, and to teach the younger pitchers what Luke taught me,” Adkins said, making reference to former UT standout and eventual No. 1 overall MLB draft choice Luke Hochever.
However, Adkins will admit to one personal ambition: “I want to break the strikeout record real bad,” he said.
Adkins enters the season just 99 strikeouts short of breaking R.A. Dickey’s all-time strikeout record, a mark that has stood for more than a decade.
Coach Rod Delmonico expects Adkins to break the strikeout record and to do a whole lot more for the Vols this year.
“He should pitch 100-120 innings, so he should break the record,” Delmonico said. “That would be a great accomplishment.”
Delmonico added that even though the record is within reach, he is more concerned with Adkins’ abilities as a leader.
“James is one of our top three pitchers; he’s a weekend starter,” Delmonico said. “He’s been here for three years, pitched in a World Series, and it’s time for him to show leadership. I expect him to lead on the field and in the classroom.”
Team leader may not be a natural role for Adkins, who admits that his love for baseball stems from his enjoyment of the isolation and simplicity of the battle between pitcher and hitter.
“I know I have my team behind me,” Adkins said. “But (at the plate) it’s just me and the hitter. He’s got to hit my best stuff and it’s like I’m in a fight. I’ll do anything I can to win that fight.”
If Adkins delivers as expected from the mound, and is able to develop into the leader that his team critically needs him to be, it will go a long way toward keeping the Diamond Vols fighting for another run at Omaha, Neb. and the College World Series.