Tennessee center Ollie Lane wasn’t expected to be in the position in which he currently finds himself. However, he’s certainly not been caught off guard.
The senior from Gibbs High School in Corryton, Tenn., was supposed to be the Vols’ starting left guard this season alongside All-SEC center Cooper Mays. That was until Mays suffered an injury in preseason camp. Now, Mays isn’t expected to play until the Florida game at the earliest. That means Lane will take the field at UT’s starting center on Saturday in the Vols’ home opener against Austin Peay. It will be the first time Lane has started since 2021, in which he started five games before being relegated to a backup role last season.
”It means a lot,” Lane said when asked about being a native East Tennessean and starting the first game in Neyland Stadium this year. “I think this is career start No. 6 for me, so it means a lot every time I get that opportunity to go out there and not only represent the ’T’, but to represent my hometown of Corryton as well. All of them that have supported me to get to that point are still a huge impact in my life. Any time you get to wear the Orange and White as a kid that grew up watching the Orange and White, it’s an honor and privilege to be able to do it.”
The Vols certainly would like to have Mays back as soon as possible, but Lane is no slouch. Per UT’s sports information department, he did not allow a sack nor commit a penalty in his limited time on the field last season, which consisted of 123 snaps. More recently, he played extremely well against Virginia. He led a group that built a strong pocket around quarterback Joe Milton III and helped the Vols average 5.5-yards per carry. Lane not only blocked; he was also in charge of Tennessee’s offensive line calls since moving to center.
“Center has been second nature to me,” Lane said. “It’s something that I’ve always had to play. It wasn’t too much of an adjustment, and more or less just taking more of those reps that I had previously before and honing in on the technique and stuff that goes into that position.”
When asked about any advice that Mays may have given him, Lane said, “Cooper has been there in my ear ever since I’ve been taking up more of the center reps. He’s a great leader and a great captain for this team and offensive line. What he told me Saturday was to just go out there and play, be me and play my game. That gave me all the confidence I had to go play that game.”
The Vols will be in fine shape against Austin Peay without Mays and, perhaps, against Florida if he still can’t play. However, it has to be exciting for Tennessee’s coaches to think about Mays’ return, which would allow Lane to slide back to his natural left guard position. After seeing how Lane can push defensive linemen around, the combination with Mays could be a quite formidable one for anyone on the Vols’ schedule.