December 14, 2008

Hollins on road to Knoxville

Jonathan Hollins hadn't made it off the airplane this weekend during his official visit to the University of Tennessee when the junior college defensive lineman got his first real impression of the UT football program.

"To be honest, I was on the plane, and it seemed like basically everybody who was on the plane had gone to UT," said Hollins, a three-star player and member of the Rivals100 for junior college recruits. "The people and fans just greeted me real well. Everybody was like, 'We're at every game.'"

All that reception did was set the stage for Hollins' first extended look at the UT campus, Neyland Stadium and the athletic facilities.

"I was fascinated by the stadium," said the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Louisiana native. "When I first saw it, I was like, 'This looks like heaven.' The locker room is brand new, it's just one of the most amazing things you could ever see.

"Knoxville is nice, a pretty city. Not too big, not too small. It's just enough to have some fun but stay focused on your education."

Hosted by Dan Williams and Eric Berry, Hollins said he appreciated the immediate sense of belonging.

"All of the coaches, all of them were the same. They embraced me. I felt honestly like it was home," said Hollins. "We joked and kidded but everybody was also on the same page.

"I had two hosts, Eric Berry and Dan Williams. Man, it was great. Those two guys are two leaders on the team, I got to hang out with them and get to know them. It was cool, very impressive."

Echoing the sentiments of other Tennessee visitors this weekend, Hollins picked up on first-year head coach Lane Kiffin's desire to have players vying for every spot on the field.

"What I like about coach Kiffin the most is that he's a blunt coach. Straightforward," said Hollins, who helped anchor his College of the Canyons defense as the team rolled through an unbeaten regular season. "He told me, 'Listen, it's going to be hard and you gotta work hard. I'm going to play the best guys.' That's kind of like all you want to hear. Go out there and compete, everybody's competing.

"In a sense, with everyone, it's like a brand-new system so everyone's starting at ground zero."

On Monday, Hollins is leaving behind the first half of his collegiate career and quite literally driving toward a new beginning. After flying back to California from his visit, Hollins will embark on the roughly 1,850-mile journey to his Louisiana home, where he'll spend a couple weeks before driving north to Knoxville.

"Man, I had a wonderful time on my visit," said Hollins, whose Dodge Stratus already has logged about 100,000 and has made the cross-country trek twice before. "It takes about 27 hours. I'll stop halfway, get a room. I don't push it to the limit. ... I can't wait to get back up there and compete."

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