With the 2013 college football season just around the corner, some of the best Tennessee Vols players are being recognized on preseason watch lists for the sport's most prestigious awards.
Daniel McCullers: The 6-foot-8, 350-pound defensive lineman made the watch list for the Outland Trophy, given to college football's best interior lineman. He also appeared on both the Nagurski and Bednarik Award watch lists, which each represent the best defensive player in the nation.
The massive junior college transfer opted to return for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft. In 2012, he led all lineman with 39 tackles, which was ninth on the team. Thirty-five of those came in the season's final eight games.
A.J. Johnson: UT's junior linebacker made the watch lists for both the Nagurski Award and Bednarik Award to join McCullers. He also earned a spot on the Butkus Award watch list, which goes to college football's best linebacker, and the Lombardi Award watch list (best player who lines up less than five yards from the line of scrimmage).
The 6-foot-2, 243-pound star came into his own in 2012, finishing fourth in the NCAA in tackles (138) and tackles per game (11.5). As if leading the SEC in tackles wasn't enough, he also ran for six touchdowns in the Vols' potent wildcat offense aptly named 'The Beast.'
Ja'Wuan James: The senior offensive lineman turned down a chance at the NFL draft to anchor UT's line in 2013, so it's no surprise that he made the watch list for the Outland Trophy.
Starting all 37 games of his collegiate career, James is a part of an offensive line that should be among the nation's best. The unit allowed just seven sacks last season, the second fewest in the NCAA. This has resulted in Lindy's and Athlon Sports putting the Vols' offensive line at No. 2 in the nation for their preseason rankings.
Antonio Richardson: The junior offensive lineman made the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award watch lists, adding to the already immense hype surrounding "Tiny" in 2013.
The 2012 Associated Press second team All-SEC selection has been raking in the preseason love, with Athlon Sports ranking him as a second team All-American heading into the new season.
Richardson handled the transition into the starting left tackle job beautifully in 2012, starting all 12 games as a sophomore and helping UT's revived offense to 475.9 yards per game, 20th in the NCAA.
James Stone: The Vols' senior center was named to the 2013 Rimington Trophy watch list, awarded to the nation's top center. The Nashville, Tenn. native is one of 44 total players on the list.
Stone is the first Vol to be named to the Rimington watch list since Josh McNeil earned the honor in 2008, and is one of nine SEC players (most of any conference) on the list.