Witten named preseason All-SEC at TE

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   KNOXVILLE- At the end of every school year, most high schools have what is called honors day.
   Now that Tennessee tight end Jason Witten is a junior in college, honors day is becoming every day.
   The former Elizabethton High School standout received another honor on Thursday, as this time he was named first-team pre-season all-SEC.
   A couple of months ago, Witten was named a second-team pre-season All-American by the publication "Lindy's".
   "I think it's an honor to be called pre-season first-team all-SEC,"
   Witten said Thursday night. "But the biggest thing is to be all-SEC at the end of the year."
   Witten's grandfather and high school coach, Dave Rider, was extremely happy with the news.
   "I'm tickled to death they think that much of Jason," Rider said. "But like Jason said it's what matters at the end of the year. It's a real honor for him. He's a good hard-working kid. I'm glad good things are happening for him."
   Witten may be happy with all these individual accolades, but there's a goal that's still out there that he hopes to achieve in January.
   "I told Casey (Clausen) that we get a lot of honors, but the main goal is to win the national championship," Witten said.
   Witten obviously learned to put team goals first by playing for coach Rider. During Witten's career at Elizabethton High School, the Cyclones made it to the state semifinals three years in a row.
   As a Volunteer, Witten already has one SEC East championship in the bag.
   "It's nice that people think of you like this, but it's more important what happens to your team," Rider said. "I've always said there's no "I" in team."
   Honors like this one can sometimes make people prideful, but Rider said that is not the case with Witten.
   "He's the same old Jason as when he was playing for the Cyclones," Rider said. "He hasn't changed, and I'm proud of him."
   Said Witten, "I just always told myself I would be the same person. This stuff makes me work harder. Hopefully by the end of the season I can be all-SEC and an All-American."
   Witten has also represented the community well since becoming such a huge public figure. Witten has spoken at local elementary schools and in churches.
   "I know as a kid, college athletes came back and spoke to me," Witten said. "I hope I can have an influence on kids."
   With All-SEC and All-American honors in the pre-season, Witten's name may surface for the Heisman if he consistently has big games. But using the word Heisman at the University of Tennessee is like cussing after the whole Peyton Manning-Charles Woodson saga in 1997.
   Witten, like Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning, is not getting caught up in Heisman talk.
   "There's a little talk about it, but tight end is a very tough position to win at," Witten said. "There are a lot of quarterbacks in the running. There's the John Mackey award for the country's best tight end. But as for the Heisman, I don't think there's much of a chance for a tight end to receive that honor."
   Witten now wants to put these individual honors aside, and get ready for Wyoming on Aug. 31.
   Witten is hungry for a successful season.
   "This football team is so ready to play," Witten said. "I'm looking forward to the season starting. We're settling for nothing less than an SEC championship and a national championship."