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February 15, 2013

Evolving Godley ready to throw first pitch

"Years." That was the measurement given by catcher Ethan Bennett to quantify the development of Zack Godley - the pitcher who will stand 60 feet, six inches away and hurl a mixture of the four pitches in his repertoire towards Bennett's mitt in UT's season opening contest at UNLV Friday.

"The amount of change overall has been unbelievable," said Bennett, a junior who is one of only four players still on the team from Godley's first season with the Vols in 2011. "He's just pounding the zone, filling up strikes.

"The quality of his pitches has totally changed."

When UT's second year coach Dave Serrano arrived following that 2011 season, Godley had just completed his inaugural campaign with the Vols after transferring from Spartanburg Methodist in his home state of South Carolina where he spent his freshman year.

He was utilized exclusively as a reliever during his first year with the Vols and relied heavily on his fastball as UT struggled to a 25-29 record under a coach that was on his way out.

Godley, a public administration major in the classroom, averaged just over an inning per outing in his 28 appearances out of the bullpen while opposing hitters notched a .323 average against him -- all before Serrano arrived.

But that's when the "years," which only translate to one season's worth of evolution, began for the 6-foot-3 right-hander who sports a mini-mullet that flows from the back of his cap in the same way that National League Cy Young winner and UT alum R.A. Dickey's does.

"It's been a great progression," Godley said.

In 2012 his role changed drastically as he became the keynote starter for the Vols, often getting the nod on Friday night's against some of the country's elite.

He recorded a win vs. No. 16 Texas.

Against No. 2 Kentucky he logged eight innings, allowing only one run on three hits as the Vols put an end to the Wildcats 22-0 start.

"He's trusted me in our working relationship. It wasn't ego when I got here," Serrano said. "It was, 'hey, yeah you can help me.'

"It's not like I've reinvented him. He had to take it and run with it, and he did."

Bennett, who was behind the plate for the Kentucky and Texas wins, confirmed Serrano's assessment of Godley's emergence.

"Coach knows what he's talking about," Bennett testified. "And Godley's been working extra-hard, so it's a combination of that."

Godley toyed with the idea of turning pro before ultimately choosing to return for his senior year in 2013.

In continuing his progression, Godley has goals both individually and for a UT squad which hasn't made the postseason since 2007.

"I want to do great each and every time out," he said. "I want to get better each time, but I haven't really circled any date on my calendar. It doesn't matter who we're playing, except for the first one with UNLV."

In addition to his on-field development, Serrano complimented Godley in evolving into a leader of the Diamond Vols club, which features 21 newcomers in 2013.

"I just told him with another year in this program, and what I thought that we could do this year, and the fun he could have. I didn't think he would have the fun going out to pro ball that he's going to have this year."

And if the year is anything like his first one under Serrano, future assessments of Godley's growth might have to be measured in decades.

"I think he's one of the better Friday guys in the country," Serrano said. "He might not have that draft recognition, but he's a guy that is going to give you seven or eight quality innings every Friday night.

"And that's all you could ask for."

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