As he lay in his hospital bed last Nov. 3, Tennessee offensive
tackle Michael Munoz must have wondered what else could go wrong.
He had already sat out the 2001 season following surgery on his
left knee, and though he'd come back to reclaim his starting
slot, he had been playing with his broken right hand in a cast
and a bum left shoulder that would also require surgery. But when
Munoz, the son of Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz,
awoke that November morning, his lower left leg had swollen
considerably because of a staph infection. The 6'6", 305-pound
Munoz spent the next five days in the hospital, watching game
film in the vain hope of returning the next week against Miami.
"I've had multiple surgeries, but that was the most pain I've
ever had," Munoz says. "You couldn't do anything to get
comfortable." Yet when asked for last season's low point, Munoz
points not to that miserable time but to the humiliating 30-3
loss to Maryland in the Peach Bowl, in which the Volunteers
looked to be beset by selfishness and a lack of discipline. "I
didn't come to Tennessee to go 8-5," Munoz says.
In January the players called a meeting and chose their own
captains, including Munoz, a junior. They also decided that if
anyone missed the "voluntary" players-only workouts this summer,
everyone would run 10 gassers--sprints the width of the field--at
7 a.m. The punishment was doled out just once before the message
got through. "We're still molding ourselves back to what we want
to be," says coach Phillip Fulmer, "but this has been a fun team
to be around, whereas last year's was not."
There's enough talent on hand to expect a turnaround. Senior
quarterback Casey Clausen has started 31 games and ranks ahead of
Peyton Manning in career passing percentage (63.2 to 62.5).
Fulmer says his linebacking crew--junior Kevin Burnett,
sophomores Kevin Simon and Jason Mitchell, and senior Robert
Peace--may be as good as the one on his '98 national title team.
Tennessee also welcomes back four regular starters on the
offensive line, which bodes well for a return to the Volunteers'
traditional power running game.
Of course, it always helps to have some added motivation, and
last season's failures provide just that. "Guys are definitely
hungry for the season to start," Munoz says. "We don't want a
repeat of last year." --P.M.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS Munoz has battled back from injuries and a staph infection to anchor the O-line and help lead a Vols revival.
2002 RECORD 8-5 (5-3, 3rd in SEC East)
FINAL AP RANK NR
RETURNING STARTERS 13
KEY RETURNEES (2002 stats)
QB Casey Clausen (Sr.)
Perfect 9-0 as starter in enemy stadiums
FS Rashad Baker (Sr.)
Leads all active SEC players with 10 career INTs
RB Cedric Houston (Jr.)
Ran for 100-plus yards in four straight games
OT Michael Munoz (Jr.)
Has started 24 games despite being banged up
P Dustin Colquitt (Jr.)
Had 10 punts downed inside 10-yard line
Winning percentage (49-14) from 1998 to 2002 for the Vols, best
of any SEC school over that span. Florida is second at .746
Though Tennessee is known as Wide Receiver U, big aerial plays
were sorely lacking last fall. In response, the Vols moved 5'9",
185-pound senior Mark Jones, who was recruited as a receiver but
had switched to safety, back to offense. Tennessee is counting on
Jones as a deep threat to help it live up to its nickname.
AUG. 30 FRESNO STATE
SEPT. 6 MARSHALL
20 AT FLORIDA
27 SOUTH CAROLINA
OCT. 4 AT AUBURN
25 AT ALABAMA
NOV. 1 DUKE
8 AT MIAMI
15 MISSISSIPPI STATE
29 AT KENTUCKY