Very few things that get in the way of 6'7", 290-pound John
Henderson--offensive linemen, running backs, cold drinks--stand
a chance. Last season, as the defensive tackle was leaving the
Vols' locker room after halftime of a game at Memphis, he found
a large cooler, filled with Gatorade and ice, blocking his way.
He picked it up, flung it across the room and charged out the
door, beating even coach Phillip Fulmer onto the field, a no-no.
"I wasn't too pleased with how we were playing," says Henderson,
whose team was trailing 10-3. "I just wanted to send the message
to the team that I will lead you to a victory. I wanted them to
The Vols won 19-17, and Henderson aspires to have a similar
impact this year. If Tennessee is to return to college football's
elite, it will do so behind Henderson, the Outland Trophy winner
who likely would have been a top 15 pick in April's NFL draft. In
Peytonesque fashion Henderson, who sat out the '98 title season
under Prop 48, opted for one more year of college life and one
last shot at a national championship.
Tennessee has 17 returning starters, including quarterback Casey
Clausen, a sophomore who has shown veteran poise. After the Vols
lost three of their first five games last year under Joey Mathews
and A.J. Suggs, Fulmer named Clausen the starter; he reeled off
six straight victories. He also passed for 1,473 yards to break
Peyton Manning's Vols freshman record.
Senior Travis Stephens inherits the starting tailback position
from Travis Henry, but he carries a question mark: Can a 5'9",
190-pounder be a 30-carries-a-game back? He may not get the
chance to answer. The Vols signed two freshmen, Jabari Davis and
Cedric Houston, who were among the nation's top 10 running back
recruits. "Who's going to step up at tailback is a fair
question," Fulmer says. "Travis is a quality back, but there is
an opportunity for a couple of young guys to contribute."
On the other side of the ball, the secondary retains all four
starters--not necessarily a good thing considering the Vols'
pitiful rank (69th) against the pass. Still, with athletic
linebackers and Henderson anchoring the front, the defense is
capable of big things. At the very least their leader is sure to
wreak havoc along the way.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Stephens will try to stay a step ahead of opposing defenders, as well as the two freshmen on his heels.
2000 record: 8-4 (5-3, T2 in SEC East)
Final ranking: No. 25 coaches' poll
Opponents held below 50 yards rushing by the Volunteers in 2000,
their most in 50 years.
An opposing team's coach sizes up the Volunteers
You look at Casey Clausen and you think, We're going to have a
good day against this guy. You don't see any zip on the ball. It
wobbles. It floats. Well, he won six in a row. I wish we had one
like him.... The receivers need to pick it up. They weren't as
productive last season.... John Henderson is a dominating
player. He gets great leverage, and he's learned to play
lower.... [Defensive end] Will Overstreet's a throwback. He's
not as talented as some, but he's relentless.
Strength: 9th of 117
Sept. 1 SYRACUSE
8 at Arkansas
15 at Florida
Oct. 6 GEORGIA
20 at Alabama
27 SOUTH CAROLINA
Nov. 3 at Notre Dame
17 at Kentucky