KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs made quite a statement with his late-season surge last fall, but his offseason arguably was even more impressive.

Dobbs traveled to Florida in May to work an internship helping test aircraft engines at Pratt & Whitney's West Palm Beach branch. Dobbs says the experience offered lessons he could carry over to football.

''It was interesting to see the dynamics,'' Dobbs said. ''I was working as part of a team working on an engine. They've got the same daily obstacles and barriers that any football team has. It was interesting seeing the parallels between the workplace and the athletic field.''

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Now the junior aerospace engineering major is eager to take Tennessee to heights it hasn't reached in several years. The 25th-ranked Volunteers open their season Sept. 5 by facing Bowling Green at Nashville's Nissan Stadium.

The Vols believe they can contend for their first Southeastern Conference East Division title since 2007. Their hopes depend on whether Dobbs stays healthy builds on the momentum he established last season.

Dobbs savors that responsibility.

''It's a privilege,'' Dobbs said. ''We talk about playing quarterback at the University of Tennessee with the `Power T' on your chest. It's an honor and privilege every day. I never take it lightly. I know all eyes are on me everywhere I go.''

Even his mentor at Pratt & Whitney , Tennessee alum David Fisher, couldn't help but ask him questions about new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, the state of the offensive line and the potential of the Vols' freshman class.

After working with Dobbs for a month, Fisher didn't have any questions about the poise of his alma mater's quarterback. Dobbs spent his internship assisting in accelerated mission tests for the F135 engine, which powers the F-35 fighter jet.

''He's a first-class kid, very bright and polite and eager to learn,'' Fisher said. ''I was very impressed. You could see he was brought up right.''

Dobbs' presence gives Tennessee hope. In a year when so many of their SEC rivals are breaking in new quarterbacks or still sorting out their quarterback situations, the Vols know what they have in Dobbs.

''The way he's a leader is great,'' senior offensive tackle Kyler Kerbyson said. ''He's always positive out there, but if he needs to get in somebody's face, he will. If the protection isn't good, he'll go up to the tackles and guards and be like, `Hey what are you doing? You need to protect me,' which is great out of a leader and what you really want.

''I'm proud of Dobbs and what he's done and how he's taken over that role of starting quarterback.''

Dobbs has come a long way in a short time.

Tennessee originally expected to redshirt Dobbs last season, but those plans changed after Justin Worley tore the labrum in his right shoulder. Tennessee went 4-1 in the five games he started to end a string of four straight losing seasons.

In an overtime victory at South Carolina, Dobbs became the first Tennessee player ever to throw for over 300 yards and rush for over 100 yards in the same game. Dobbs was named the most valuable player of Tennessee's TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Iowa.

Dobbs said the late-season emergence didn't necessarily boost his confidence because he's always had plenty of belief in his abilities. But teammates and coaches say they've noticed a difference in him.

''I really think Josh has taken the next step in leadership,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ''You can see it. He's out there. He's in command. He has been a CEO of this camp, and I've been very proud of him. He's been much more vocal than he's been in the past. He's holding individuals accountable. It starts with himself.''

Dobbs' emergence has Tennessee feeling optimistic that the program's headed back in the right direction. The future may be even brighter for Dobbs himself.

''He's a great representative for the university,'' Fisher said. ''I have no worries at all about his character as well as his intelligence. I think he's going to do great, whether he makes it to the NFL or not.

''I think he'll be a success at whatever he does.''