If Tennessee’s football players needed any motivation to start and finish their second Habitat for Humanity home build in two summers, they only needed to look next door.
Tennessee senior linebacker Herman Lathers (right) laughs at junior defensive lineman Marlon Walls attempts to hammer a nail into wood during the upperclassmen's turn on the Vols' second Habitat for Humanity home build in the South Knoxville community in the past two summers. Players split the work into four Saturdays. (UT photo)
The house they built last summer is directly next door to the burned-down home they’re rebuilding this summer.
And it’s still standing.
“That’s good to see,” said Andre Lott, the former Vols and NFL defensive back turned UT Vol For Life coordinator. “I guess we’re doing something right.”
And make no mistake, the Vols were doing something. Many things, actually. They weren’t sitting around watching the small team of carpenters assigned to help them. They put down the foundation and put up the walls. They put down the floor and put up the roof. They measured, cut and installed the trim. They built the shed out back.
They worked hard. And that work will be celebrated with a house-welcoming ceremony this weekend.
“If we ain’t done by 1, we ain’t eatin’ none!” junior inside linebacker Greg King yelled to his teammates.
The Vols actually ate lunch just after 11 a.m., but the point was made.
Everyone — even the kickers — had to work.
UT junior kicker Michael Palardy (UT photo)
“I wouldn’t trust (my teammates) with the main house, to be honest with you. I don’t know why they’re inside,” said junior kicker, punter and kickoff specialist Michael Palardy, who was assigned backyard shed duty. “But if you look at the shed ... that shed looks pretty nice. I might go build one of those back home.”
Saturday’s construction project looked nothing like an event that UT’s players were forced to attend. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. Some of them, such as senior inside linebacker Herman Lathers and senior safety Rod Wilks, had worked construction with their families and knew what they were doing. Others, such as senior defensive back Prentiss Waggner and senior offensive lineman Dallas Thomas, merely acted like they knew what they were doing.
“I got all this under control,” Waggner said. “I labored as a country boy. I used to do it when I was little — I would say since I was about 10 or 12. My neighbor’s father used to do it all the time, so he used to just see us outside all the time doing nothing, and he used to get us and make us carry the piles to the truck like that.”
Waggner was ultimately forced to admit that cleaning up a job site was “pretty much” his lifelong contribution to the business.
“I was never too good with a hammer,” Waggner said. “I was basically just, like, the labor guy carrying piles back to the truck for a quick little $20. That was pretty much it.”
Lathers, who grew up working on roofs and siding in Baton Rouge, La., said he felt right at home on a construction site.
“Yeah, I do. I like it,” said Lathers, who came back this spring after missing last season with a fractured ankle. “I like going out and doing work in the community, and especially roofing and doing houses. I always did it as a kid.
“I used to do it with my grandfather, so I always enjoy it and look forward to doing it.”
UT senior safety Rod Wilks (UT photo)
Lathers enjoyed watching King and junior defensive lineman Marlon Walls wield hammers on Saturday, too.
“Me and Wilks got it covered,” Lathers said. “Marlon Walls and Greg King, they don’t even know how to use a hammer, so we have to help them. But we’re getting it up.”
To hear Lathers tell, King and Walls hit their fingers more often than the nails they were aiming at.
“Hitting your finger (happens),” Lathers said. “Walls and King, they probably did it about 10 times, but we went behind them and fixed it when they messed it up, so it’s all good. It’ll be good and safe. Me and Wilks are doing double duty, trying to work after them so we make sure it’s done right.”
Thomas got busted, too.
UT’s lone senior starter on the offensive line had a cast covering part of his recently sprained hand, so he put on a hat and pretended to be the boss.
“I am the lead carpenter out here,” Thomas said. “I’m everywhere. I’m foreman over everything, making sure everybody’s doing everything right. They put me in charge of everything, you know? Oh, yeah. That’s me.”
And foremen don’t have to waste time actually working, Thomas added.
UT senior cornerback Marsalis Teague works inside on the kitchen cabinets. (UT photo)
“Not too much (work). I’m just watching,” he said. “But if I have to get my hands dirty, I don’t mind. I had them cut (the cast) way back, just so I could do this project.
“It’s nothing. It’s just a sprain.”
Ben Bartholomew overheard Thomas’ interview in between saw cuts for the trim, and the Vols’ senior fullback laughed and shook his head behind Thomas’ back as if to suggest, “He’s not by boss.”
A reporter quickly spotted Bartholomew and alerted Thomas, who immediately turned around and jokingly confronted his fullback.
“Why you gotta do me like that, Bart?” Thomas said. “What’s up with that, man?”
The players went back to work after annihilating several trays of sub sandwiches, but no one complained about losing a precious off-day in mid-July.
“It means a lot to me. I think it means a lot to all the guys,” Waggner said. “We really didn’t have to do this, but we really pretty much don’t do too much on Saturdays, anyway, except come up and get a little extra work — a little extra feet work or a little extra film — so to come out here and give back to the community is big for us.”
Thomas said giving back to the Knoxville area shouldn’t be an option for UT athletes.
"Foreman" Dallas Thomas (middle) helping teammates Ben Bartholomew (left) and Darin Gooch (right). (UT photo)
It should be considered part of their jobs.
“There’s more to being in the community than just playing ball,” he said. “We know everybody out here, they love Tennessee football, so we like to give back to them besides just playing football and all that. It’s just a way to build togetherness as a team. To put together a shed and a house ... like, not too many people can say they built a house together with their team, so it’s just a real big honor.”
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247
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