KNOXVILLE – Tennessee walk-on wide receiver Jacob Carter doesn’t stand out in many situations.
His 6-foot, 190-pound frame isn’t that different from some of the media that flock to the Vols' practices. His slightly overgrown hair disguises him among the male students walking around campus. On the football field, he has never recorded a play with the Vols.
This spring, though, easily overlooked Jacob Carter is Tennessee's leading receiver in two scrimmages.
“It hasn't surprised me too much, everybody's getting a chance,” the redshirt sophomore from Nashville’s Ensworth High School said. “I knew there wasn't a whole lot of depth (at wide receiver) so there were a lot of opportunities to be had. I’m just trying to make the most of it everyday.”
Carter has proved as much in the Vols' two spring scrimmages inside Neyland Stadium. He is second on the team in receptions with eight grabs and his 140 yards receiving is 52 more than any other player on the roster.
Tennessee's limited number of wideouts has aided Carter’s opportunities. The Vols have only six scholarship receivers participating in spring practice. Of those six, only four—Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers, Zach Rogers and Vincent Dallas—have ever notched a collegiate reception.
Despite the lack of depth, coach Derek Dooley had no problem saying Carter’s production has been genuine.
“What he's doing out there hasn't been a fluke,” Dooley said. “He works hard, he's got good size, he's tough, he's got good hands and he's been able to be productive. We need it, we’re really thin there.”
Even before the big scrimmage numbers, Carter’s talents were noticed by one notable offensive teammate.
“What everybody hasnt notice is that (Carter) has been balling since we were freshman,” junior offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James said via twitter on Saturday.
Carter, who said he turned down the opportunity for more playing time at smaller schools such as Birmingham Southern, was appreciative of James’ comments and said he’s felt support from several of his offensive counterparts.
“Me and Ja'Wuan have been clicking pretty well ever since we came in together," Carter said. "We've had a few classes together, so we've become pretty good friends. He's just giving me support, trying to help me out. He's a good guy. You might think there's pressure, but Da'Rick and Justin and all those guys have your back even if you're the last guy on the depth chart.”
Several walk-ons have made noticeable impacts for the Vols in recent years.
Linebackers Nick and Shane Reveiz, kicker Derrick Brodus, running back Jaron Toney, defensive tackle Joseph Ayres and safety Tyler Wolf have all played meaningful snaps after entering the program without a scholarship.
Dooley was asked if Carter has the capacity to become a regular contributor as well.
“It's too early to tell,” he responded. “He's still a young guy in the program. We've had a lot of success with walk-ons. I've put a ton of guys on (scholarship). We've had a lot of guys become contributors. Those walk-ons are important.”
There’s a cold reality for many spring overachievers that sets in when a crop of talented newcomers arrive over the summer at their position. Four highly ranked receivers—Cordarrelle Patterson, Drae Bowles, Alton ‘Pig’ Howard and Jason Croom—were all members of the 2012 signing class.
For now, Carter is only worried about what's in front of him. Every rep is an opportunity.
“I'm enjoying it, trying to have a good time and take it as it is."