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Lewis Set to fly

By Mike Griffith, News-Sentinel sportswriter
December 31, 1999

TEMPE, Ariz. - Jamal Lewis is tired of injuries, sick of standing on the sidelines and fed up with the uncertainty of his future.

He's ready to do something about it.

Lewis has big plans for Sunday's Fiesta Bowl against Nebraska (8 p.m., WATE). And if those plans come to fruition, it should mean a Tennessee victory and big bucks for him in the form of improved NFL draft status.

"It's been tough at times this season," said Lewis, who will rotate in the backfield with starting tailback Travis Henry. "I wasn't that healthy at times. My shoulder was bothering me and then it was my ankle."

Lewis tried to hide the shoulder injury, but the numbers gave him away. Though he led the Vols with 816 yards rushing, he had just 107 yards on 41 carries over the last three games in which he appeared. Five of his seven rushing touchdowns came in the first two games of the season.

Lewis' stock plummeted in the eyes of many NFL scouts. The 6-1, 233-pounder went from being a sure-fire first-round pick to a junior wavering on returning for his senior season.

"This could be the last game of my Tennessee career, or it could be the first game of next year," Lewis said. "But I've got a feeling I'm going to play a role in this game."

Lewis isn't the only one who has that feeling.

Both UT coach Phillip Fulmer and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders have noticed a fire in Lewis since the Vols began their bowl preparations.

Fulmer said Lewis has had "a lot of juice about him this week." Sanders attributes that to Lewis' health.

"I think it's the first time since the Florida game that he's been healthy," Sanders said. "I do know this: He has a great desire to do well in the game."

UT receiver Cedrick Wilson, Lewis' roommate, can vouch for that.

"Travis Henry does a wonderful job finding the right holes and getting tough yards, but everybody knows there's just something special about Jamal," Wilson said. "When he gets his hands on the ball, and he's ready to go, it's like nobody else on the field can play with him. He's just got to get it going.

"I don't think he has an injury on his body right now, and he's practicing like that. He's doing everything he used to do."

Lewis has worn a look of concentration during the week that borders on being a scowl. Mad at the world, he's ready to make someone pay for the misfortunes he has suffered this season.

"If you get past the line of scrimmage and into their secondary, you can make things happen," Lewis said. "But I'm not necessarily looking for long runs. I'll be running for first downs.

"I'm going to punish anything that gets in my way Sunday night," Lewis said. "I'm going to take care of my business. It's on."

CONTAINING TEE: Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin has an idea of what to expect from Nebraska.

"I expect them to come into this game with a plan to keep me in the pocket and make me throw the ball," Martin said. "Either way, this game will come down to making plays. No one will dominate just running or passing."

Martin said the team that did the best job containing him was South Carolina.

"They brought their ends upfield," said Martin, who had five carries for 7 yards against the Gamecocks. "I only had one scramble in that game."

INJURY UPDATE: Fulmer made it official that backup safety Tad Golden will not play. Golden has a stress fracture in his foot.

Fulmer also announced that Fred Weary will start at left guard. Weary suffered a torn MCL in his left knee against Vanderbilt.

Fulmer said he has been working backup left tackle Reggie Coleman at left guard in addition to Toby Champion.

RATTAY UPDATE: UT quarterback signee John Rattay is recovering from minor hernia surgery he underwent on Wednesday. Rattay will enroll on Jan. 12, and plans to room with linebacker Robert Peace of Ruston, La. Peace is expected to commit to the Vols soon.

New LSU coach Nick Saban has been pressing Peace to stay in-state. Peace changed his mind about his commitment to LSU after coach Gerry DiNardo was fired.

Rattay is expected to watch today's Tennessee practice from outside the fence at Mountain Pointe High School. A new NCAA rule prevents recruits from attending bowl practices.

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