Derek Dooley, like many great, Southern storytellers, occasionally embellishes a bit.
Redshirt freshman walk-on kicker Derrick Brodus (green shirt) and friends pose with the game ball coach Derek Dooley gave Brodus after his performance in Saturday night's 24-0 win over MTSU in Neyland Stadium. (Daniel Sullivan photo.)
Initially, it seemed like Dooley’s side-splitting, Saturday night story about Tennessee’s kicker conundrum was full of exaggerations.
The story started with sophomore starter Michael Palardy tweaking a leg muscle Thursday — “after practice,” according to Dooley. Coaches thought Palardy might still be OK to kick in Saturday night’s game against Middle Tennessee State, but he labored through warm-ups and was quickly deemed off-limits.
UT’s primary contingency plan, walk-on senior Chip Rhome, came up lame moments later — also with some kind of muscle problem — and was scratched approximately an hour before kickoff.
The Vols then started scrambling.
Walk-on sophomore nose tackle Joseph Ayres, who is now 280 pounds but was a good, 230-pound soccer player at Chattanooga’s prestigious McCallie School, began practicing kickoffs while Dooley put out an all points bulletin for third-string kicker Derrick Brodus — a redshirt freshman from Knoxville-area Alcoa High School by way of Guam, an unincorporated territory of the United States in the western Pacific Ocean.
“So we didn’t have a kicker, so we had to make a call to the frat house,” Dooley said. “This is no lie. We called the frat house and had a policeman go get him.”
Actually, this isn’t 100 percent true.
But more on that later.
Derrick Brodus laughs late Saturday night while telling reporters that he's "not quite 21 yet."
Let Dooley finish his story first.
'It's not funny, guys'
“I’m going to write a book one day of the things that have happened to me in the last two years — having to find a kicker out of a frat house,” UT’s coach said. “I’ve never had that one. I didn’t know what we were going to do. We had Joe Ayres out there practicing kickoffs. And (Matt) Darr.
“Just when I think it’s all happened to me, I’m going out in pregame without a kicker.”
Dooley said Rhome, who was 100 percent healthy when he woke up Saturday, “went out there like kickers do before pregame.”
Moments later, Dooley said, a bunch of people “all come back in a panic.”
Dooley said several UT players “were laughing” at the situation in the locker room.
Brodus was escorted to Neyland Stadium in this unmarked police vehicle. (Daniel Sullivan photo.)
“I’m over there going, ‘It’s not funny guys. We don’t have a kicker,’ the coach said.
There was only one option.
“Let’s get an APB out for Brodus,” Dooley said.
The head coach crossed his fingers — and probably said a small prayer — as director of football operations Brad Pendergrass found Brodus’ cell phone number and called him.
'Are you sober?'
Of course, Pendergrass’ efforts weren’t immediately successful.
Panic rose when Brodus didn’t answer the first call. Panic rose even more when the second call was quickly dropped.
On the third try, relief filled the locker room when Pendergrass finally got in touch with Brodus and asked the following question.
Brodus speaking with reporters in Neyland Stadium's ground-level media center.
“Are you sober?”
Few in the Neyland Stadium media center had a straight face as Dooley relayed the story.
“It’s a good thing he wasn’t ... you know ... having too much fun Saturday afternoon,” Dooley said. “I told the coaches, ‘Hey, an intoxicated Brodus is better than nobody. Get him. Just get him here, and we’ll do a breathalyzer.’
“Fortunately, he didn’t do anything ... you know ... bad.”
Brodus, smiling ear to ear, said there’s a simple reason he hadn’t been imbibing with buddies before the game.
“I’m not quite 21 yet,” he said.
Then what was he doing when Pendergrass called?
“I was just laying on my couch, relaxing, watching some football,” he said. “It around 6:10. Honestly, I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was a dream, because I was laying on the couch, just relaxing, and I answer the phone, and (Pendergrass) is just telling me that I need to come to the stadium as soon as possible.
Brodus and UT punter/holder Matt Darr watch one of Brodus' kicks sail through the uprights.
“Nothing really soaked in about what was going on.”
There’s a reason Brodus wasn’t fully aware at the time. But it wasn’t because he’d been drinking.
Brodus wasn’t just “laying” on the couch and “relaxing,” according to one of his three roommates, who spoke with govols247 on Sunday afternoon.
“Oh, he was definitely asleep,” said Daniel Sullivan, a fellow Alcoa High School graduate, UT graduate, UT law-school student and longtime friend of the Brodus family. “We’d just been sitting there all day, watching some football and some soccer, and Brodus had probably been asleep for an hour when they called him.”
'Yeah ... uh ... burgers'
Sullivan said he’d read online Saturday morning that Palardy was banged up and “was probably out” for the game, so he approached Brodus and asked him if he was on the Vols’ dress roster that day.
“He said, ‘No, I’m not. I don’t know why, but I’m not,’” Sullivan said. “He was like, ‘I guess Chip’s kicking tonight,’ so we just watched the TV for a while, and then he fell asleep on the couch.”
Sullivan, a former trainer on UT’s men’s basketball team, said all four guys in their South Knoxville house “almost always” go to every football game. The other three roommates usually tailgate around the same spot on campus, and Brodus usually joins them when he’s not on the dress list.
Brodus' official UT head shot
And since Brodus had only dressed for the Montana and Buffalo games earlier that season, he usually rode down to campus with his buddies several hours before the game and enjoyed the usual, SEC-tailgate items.
“Burgers,” Sullivan said with a laugh. “Yeah ... uh ... burgers.”
Fortunately for the Vols, though, Saturday’s MTSU game was one of the least-hype home games in years. Many fans — even the most diehard fans — arrived just before kickoff or didn’t arrive at all, so Brodus chose to stay on the couch rather than drive to campus for pregame “burgers.”
Sullivan said he couldn’t convince his other buddies — even Brodus, a member of the team — to attend even the first half of the UT-MTSU game.
The friends agreed to meet up at Buffalo Wild Wings on Cumberland Avenue after the first half so they could watch the UT-MTSU and Alabama-LSU games at the same time.
“I mean, we’re 100 percent Vols, through and through,” Sullivan said. “But Bama-LSU ... I mean ... that’s basically the national championship, you know? You gotta watch that.”
'Go to the stadium right now'
Sullivan said he was minutes from leaving the house and heading to campus when Brodus’ phone rang. The kicker ignored the first call because “I didn’t recognize the number,” but he tried picking up when the number called back “like two seconds later.”
That call dropped, though.
Govols247’s Sunday call to Sullivan had the same problem.
“We live kind of in a hole,” Sullivan said. “So the service is spotty.”
Brodus ultimately found a cell-friendly spot in the house for Pendergrass’ third call — or “36th call,” as a panicking Pendergrass said at the time — and Sullivan said his friend “shot up” and had a “weird look” on his face.
“What’s going on?” Sullivan asked.
Brodus didn’t give specifics, saying only, “I’ve got to go to the stadium right now.”
“I looked over at the clock, and it was literally an hour and two minutes until kickoff,” Sullivan said. “That kind of sped up our process, I guess you could say.”
The roommates then got in Sullivan’s car and sped past UT hospital and hopped onto Alcoa Highway before making the turn to exit on Neyland Drive.
Brodus' Twitter bio picture, which does nothing to disprove comments from friends and teammates who describe him as a "laid back" guy.
“We were trying to decide if we needed to listen to music or the Tennessee pregame (show) to get his mind right,” Sullivan said. “He was calling his mom. The whole thing was just pretty funny.”
Brodus said he told his mom, “I think I might be kicking tonight.”
'I'm not prepared for this'
Brodus couldn’t go into much detail with his mother, because he and Sullivan had a date with flashing blue lights.
The friends met up with the unmarked police car — driven by an officer who also called Brodus — at the intersection of Neyland and Joe Johnson Drive.
“He flipped his lights on and pulled a ‘you-wee’, so we followed him down Neyland, turned in right there at Pratt (Pavilion),” Sullivan said. “I pulled over right there, and Brodus ran and jumped in the cop car, and he was gone.
“Next thing I know, I’m in the stadium, seeing him warming up. I could just tell — you know, living with him and everything — that he was just blown away.”
The roommates didn’t have much time to chat in the car, but Sullivan specifically remembers asking Brodus, “Are you OK, man?”
“I don’t know if my mind’s right for this, man. I’m not prepared for this,” Brodus replied, according to Sullivan.
'It got there'
Apparently, Brodus prepared himself enough in the half-hour-or-so he had after one trainer stretched him while another helped find his pads and uniform and get dressed.
Brodus made all three extra points he attempted, and he drilled a 21-yard field goal that gave UT a 24-0 lead as time expired in the first half.
The only thing that didn’t go so well, according to Brodus, was his kickoffs — fortunately for him, though, UT’s coverage units played well and generally kept MTSU pinned back, anyway.
“On my kickoffs, I didn’t really kick them as well as I wanted to,” he said. “But on my field goals (and extra points), and I felt like I made good contact on all of them.”
Brodus playing soccer from his days at Knoxville-area football powerhouse Alcoa High School.
Perhaps Brodus didn’t show it, but he didn’t deny feeling a bit nervy before his first kickoff and first extra point.
“My heart was definitely beating really fast,” Brodus said. “I didn’t, like, honestly know what to do, but I ended up going out there and stroking the ball like I’m supposed to do.”
Sullivan laughed on the phone when describing what happened when UT won the toss and deferred to the second half, meaning Brodus would jog onto the field and boot the opening kickoff.
“He forgot to even raise his hand on the first kickoff,” Sullivan said. “It was hilarious. He just totally forgot. ...He kicked it OK, though. It got there.
“I’m just glad he got to get his first kicks out of the way against MTSU.”
'He got it done'
Sullivan said he remained confident that Brodus would do well despite Saturday’s bizarre turn of events.
His logic was simple.
Tennessee director of football operations Brad Pendergrass, the man who tracked down Brodus by phone early Saturday night.
Brodus is an athletic guy who carries himself in a cool, calm, confident manner on and off the field.
“He’s just a really unique personality,” Sullivan said. “He’s just so laid back and kind of quiet, but he’s really funny.”
Brodus told Sullivan late Saturday night that the only thought racing through his head was, “What’s going to happen to me if I kick this out of bounds?”
Sullivan said Brodus “made all his field goals in pregame,” though, and he expected his friend to perform under the lights.
“And he did,” Sullivan said. “He got it done. He didn’t miss.”
'A good decision'
Derrick Brodus wasn’t supposed to be a college football player.
He was supposed to be a soccer player.
At least that’s what everyone — including Brodus — thought.
Brodus kicked on the perennially powerful Alcoa football team for three years, but he was essentially dismissed from the team after choosing to attend a four-day “soccer showcase” tournament in North Carolina over a football game.
His football coach gave him an ultimatum — stay in town and play in the football game, or leave town and play soccer and never play another down for the Tornadoes — and Brodus said he chose the “other football.”
So he didn’t kick as a senior for the state champions.
“At the time, I thought it was a good decision,” he said. “I really like soccer.”
'Man, I miss playing'
Brodus still has soccer in the blood, though.
Sullivan verified that, saying he and Brodus often flip the channels between the day’s first SEC football game and England’s Barclays Premier League soccer matches.
Brodus is a Chelsea fan, while Sullivan supports Tottenham Hotspur.
The friends spent early Saturday afternoon flipping between the Florida-Vanderbilt football game and Chelsea’s match at Blackburn Rovers.
Brodus still excels at soccer, too — albeit on an intramural level at this point. His team won one match 13-1 last season, and he scored four goals.
“He came home that night saying, ‘We slaughtered ‘em,’” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said Brodus “definitely had opportunities” to play soccer at smaller colleges, but he ultimately chose to enroll at UT and “just be a normal student.”
“I think he wanted the full college experience, you know?” Sullivan said. “A lot of us, we’re right here. Alcoa’s so close, you know, and it’s a big pull to come to Tennessee.”
One year without sports was one year too many, though.
Brodus’ friends and family quickly learned that intramural sports alone wouldn’t keep his competitive spirit satisfied.
“Me and my parents had a talk, and they just wanted me to play sports, because I’d been playing sports all my life,” Brodus said.
Sullivan said he and some of Brodus’ other friends pushed him, too.
“He just kept saying, ‘Man, I miss playing, I miss the competition,’” Sullivan said. “We just kept telling him to go try out, and one day he came home and was just like, ‘Alright, I did it. I talked to the coaches.’ I’d been a basketball manager for two years under (Bruce) Pearl, so I knew that if you were at a position of need, they’d take you as a walk-on.
“I think the more he thought about it, the chance to just run out of the T and wear Tennessee’s colors, I think that really appealed to him after going through his freshman year and not playing any sports.
“And he’s been out there every day getting after it.”
'I don't know'
Vols sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith, who has a couple of classes with Brodus this semester, said he was “not surprised at all” with the kicker’s Saturday night success.
“Brodus is a great kicker,” Smith said. “He kicks like that in practice, and that’s why Palardy is always bombing 49-yard field goals, because Brodus is right behind him, bombing 49-yard field goals.”
Smith and Dooley must not see the same things at practice, because UT’s coach said he hadn’t seen Brodus kick in a while.
Asked how Brodus has been kicking in practice lately, Dooley laughed a bit and said, “I don’t know.”
“He’s been, you know, over there in the indoor (complex),” the coach said. “Man, I’m telling you, I had to go over and ask the specialists, ‘What has this guy been practicing in there?’ You know, I mean ... you don’t rep three kickers. They’re on their own to just develop. They’re over there in individuals. We have drills and a script for our kickers, and I’m expecting him to do it — but, I mean, we’re not watching to see if Brodus is doing his kicking.
“But I mean, you know, you’ve got to give the guy credit, man. He went out there and stroked the field goal and all three extra points. He did it in the spring game.
“Man, the team was jacked.”
Rivera agreed, saying he started a slow clap and chant when the kicker sprinted in the locker room before the game.
“Oh, yeah, I was applauding when he came in,” Rivera said. “I was clapping for him, saying ‘Bro-dus, Bro-dus, Bro-dus.’ That was funny, man. Hilarious story. Coming off the couch, man. That’s awesome.
“I just remember about our (backup) kicker getting hurt. And then I turned around, and Brodus is running in to save the day. ... I don’t know if I’d have taken the call, man. I really don’t. But he did, and he was clutch.
“It says a lot about him. I’m real proud of him for coming in here and coming in front a big crowd and doing it. That’s a big deal.”
'He definitely earned it'
Brodus got another round of applause from teammates after the fourth quarter, when Dooley gave the local walk-on a game ball.
“He earned it,” Smith said. “He definitely earned it.”
Brodus was then ushered into the media room, and then into a room with Voice of the Vols Bob Kesling for a separate, one-on-one Vol Network radio interview.
Then he finally had a second to collect his thoughts while heading home.
But his night was just getting started, thanks to his roommates and several more friends.
Sullivan said “about eight of us” got home before Brodus and surprised him the way young men have surprised their friends for years.
With an ambush.
“We turned all the lights off and got really quiet,” Sullivan said. “As soon as he walked in the door, we all dog-piled him.”
After everyone had gotten in their licks, Brodus broke the big, postgame news to his buddies.
“We found out he got the game ball, so we got up and took some pictures with him and the ball,” Sullivan said.
More 'uh ... burgers'
Brodus might not kick in another game this season. He might not ever kick in another game, period.
Palardy’s leg issue isn’t believed to be serious, but multiple sources told govols247 on Sunday that Rhome’s injury is serious — possibly serious enough to end his season, and therefore his career.
It’s no stretch to think Brodus might at least beat UT’s No. 2 kicker the rest of the season, which might put him on the travel squad for this Saturday’s game at eight-ranked Arkansas.
Regardless, though, Sullivan said Brodus had his moment — a moment no one can take away from him.
“It’s just crazy,” Sullivan said. “The whole thing is just crazy. For at least one night, you know, he went from obscure, third-string, walk-on kicker to probably being the biggest story from a Tennessee football game — especially after all those comments from Dooley.
“You know, it’s just ... it’s exciting, man. We know he’s been out there working, and we’ve seen the troubles that the kicking game has had, and it’s just exciting that he’s gotten an opportunity now. I know his parents got to call a bunch of his relatives around the country last night, and I saw a bunch of comments from his family in Guam on Facebook.
“I mean, this is a pretty big deal, you know?”
And there was only one way for Brodus and his boys to celebrate late Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
The crew enjoyed a big night out on the town, and their normal pregame nutrition tasted better than it would have at any pregame tailgate.
Sullivan laughed when asked about the postgame party menu.
“Uh ... burgers,” he said. “Yeah. Burgers.”
Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247