Robert Ayers # LB
Height: 6-3 Weight: 274 Age: 28
Born: 9/6/1985 Clio , SC
Experience: 6th season
High School: Marlboro Co. HS [Bennettsville, SC]
Selected By: Denver Broncos
Pick (Overall): 18 (18)
Regarded as one of the nation's premier defensive players coming out of Marlboro County High School, Ayers struggled to earn his place with the Volunteers until his senior season.
Renewed dedication helped him emerge as one of the few bright spots during a troublesome season for the Vols. He would go on to earn All-Southeastern Conference honors and shared the Andy Spiva Award, given to the team's most improved defensive player.
For all of Ayers' physical ability, the coaches admit that he just recently emerged following a few inconsistent seasons.
"When Robert got here, he thought he was God's gift to football," former head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He wouldn't listen to the upperclassmen -- not in a bad way, but he just didn't take to coaching very well. (As a senior) he's starving for coaching, and he's giving great effort. He's turned into a big-time SEC defensive end."
Ayers wanted to be a linebacker but agreed to slide to defensive tackle, where the Vols had serious depth concerns. It would have been easy for Ayers to fight even a situational role in his last chance to show NFL scouts his ability at end. However, he was more concerned with his last chance to win an SEC championship.
"Obviously, I feel like I'm better off the edge," he said. "But I'll do whatever the coaches ask me to do," Ayers stated prior to his banner senior season.
At Marlboro County High School, Ayers earned All-State honors as a linebacker and was selected to play in the 2003 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. He added All-South honors from Fox Sports Net and was a Top 100 Dream Team choice by Prep Star. Super Prep rated him the third-best linebacker prospect in the nation and the second-best overall prospect in the state of South Carolina. ESPN's Tom Lemming rated him the seventh-best linebacker in the country and he received a four-star ranking from Rivals.com.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Super Southern 100 choice recorded 112 tackles and five interceptions, as he also returned kickoffs as a senior. His best performance was a 28-tackle effort vs. Clover High. He also recorded 94 tackles, including eight sacks, to go with three interceptions as junior. In addition to football he lettered in track, competing in the 100-meter dash and 4x100-meter relay.
Ayers redshirted as a 230-pound outside linebacker for Tennessee in 2004. Having bulked up to 250 pounds prior to the 2005 campaign, he shifted to left defensive end. He backed up All-SEC choice Parys Haralson, as he delivered five tackles (three solo) and a six-yard sack in nine games.
The redshirt sophomore shifted to right end the following season, playing behind Antonio Reynolds, but was hampered early in the 2006 season by a left hand fracture suffered in August camp. He would produce 25 tackles (17 solo) with one sack in 13 games, earning two late-season starting assignments.
In 2007, Ayers was a reserve behind Antonio Reynolds. Even though he was used off the bench, he led the team with four sacks and 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also collected 34 tackles (25 solo) with two pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.
As a senior, Ayers caught fire at midseason to deliver 49 tackles (34 solo) with three sacks, leading the team and league with 15.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also had six pressures and his first career interception.