Like many other Knoxville-area kids, Ollie Lane had one dream growing up: playing football at the University of Tennessee.
“I grew up, my dad’s from Knoxville. We were always Vol fans,” Tennessee offensive lineman Lane said. “My whole room at home was just orange and white all over the place.”
For Lane, that journey started at Gibbs High School in Corryton, Tennessee. It was there that he found a passion for the game of football and developed serious dreams to continue to the next level.
At 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds, Lane had the physical tools – he was a three-star prospect out of high school. So when Tennessee offered to him, Lane knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“I basically describe it as I’m living the dream,” Lane said. “Every time, coming up through high school at Gibbs, it was my dream to come and play football here at Tennessee. When I finally got the opportunity, I knew exactly the decision I wanted to make.”
But things did not come easy for Lane at Rocky Top. He had the natural strength and ability, but his technique and understanding of the game were lacking. That issue became evident in one of Lane’s first spring practices in 2017. The offensive line depth was thin at the time, and Lane and fellow newcomer Jerome Carvin were thrust into action.
“Honestly, those reps, even though they weren’t perfect, it was reps that I needed to be able to work on my craft and get better,” Lane said.
That trial by fire was pivotal for Lane’s development, particularly in understanding the technique of the position. That was one area Lane did not focus on at Gibbs – he had enough physical talent to compensate. In college though, he had to take his game to the next level.
Part of his growth came from his years on the bench. Lane took in valuable information watching other Vols shine on the offensive line, and he learned to replicate their success.
Lane’s biggest step forward came as a result of the coaching change last January. New head coach Josh Heupel brought Glen Elarbee with him as his offensive line coach, one of the most well-respected O-line coaches in the nation. The time spent talking technique or watching film with Elarbee pushed Lane over the top.
“Coach Elarbee has been a phenomenal coach for me,” Lane said. “He’s one of those guys that’s going to sit back and he’s going to talk with you, coach you through things. He works with you really well.”
It showed when – like that first spring practice – Lane was thrust into action in Tennessee’s season-opener against Bowling Green. Starting center Cooper Mays came out with injury, forcing Carvin to shift to center and Lane in at left guard. Normally a center, Lane was not worried with playing a different position. Versatility is something that Elarbee emphasized time and time again.
“Him having that trust and belief in me has helped build my confidence a lot,” Lane said.
Injuries along the offensive line forced Lane into a larger role this season, and he has made the most of that opportunity.
In that Bowling Green game, Lane played 60 clean snaps as the Vols rushed for 331 yards and 4 touchdowns. He made his first career start against Pitt and saw action versus both Tennessee Tech and Florida – he didn’t allow a pressure in 18 snaps at the Swamp. Most recently, Lane was part of a UT line that ran over Mizzou for 458 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Lane’s biggest play of the afternoon came late in the first quarter. He pulled across for a key block for Tiyon Evans, who broke out for a 92-yard touchdown run. Recognizing the open field in front of Evans, Lane raised his hands in the touchdown call as he ran the 92 yards to celebrate with his teammate.
“I told myself, ‘I’m going to make this the best pull I’ve ever had,’” Lane said. “When I pulled across, I got off the pull, looked up and saw no one in front of Tiyon. I was like ‘That’s a touchdown.’ I immediately threw my hands up, playing with a lot of emotion."
“I used to (sprint) a lot when I was in high school. That was also about 40 pounds ago,” Lane said jokingly. “I used to be athletic. I got down there and I celebrated with them, but when I got to the sideline, I immediately sat on the bench and took a couple of deep breaths in. But it was definitely worth it.”
Lane’s determination to be the best is shared across the offensive line. The Vols have cleaned up the penalties as of late, giving the line more opportunities to thrive in the run game, which has shown over the past few weeks.
Whether Lane starts against South Carolina this Saturday or just gets 20 snaps off the bench, he does not take any of it for granted.
“That’s something that I’ve taken with me as I’ve continued through here,” Lane said. “Just knowing that this is my dream, this is what I want to do, this is me being able to live out my dream.”