Adams: Prospects good that walk-ons prosper at UT

John Adams

You probably already know that Southern California is Lane Kiffin's football program role model. That's understandable since he was an assistant coach on two USC national championships teams under coach Pete Carroll.

But Kiffin has learned something from another prominent football program as well. His father, Monte, taught him.

Monte Kiffin, Lane's defensive coordinator, believes strongly in giving walk-on players a chance. That belief goes back to his days as a player and assistant coach at Nebraska, which implemented one of the most successful walk-on programs in college football history in the early 1960s. It was reinforced by Kiffin's NFL experience with rookie free agents, the pro equivalents of college walk-ons.

He didn't care how many stars recruiting services bestowed on a college prospect or in what round a player was drafted.

"It doesn't matter whether you have a scholarship, how big you are or how fast you can run the 40," Monte said. "What matters is whether you make the play or you don't."

That philosophy wasn't lost on his son.

"I've heard for years and years the stories from him," Lane said. "A number of my relatives have walked on there (at Nebraska).

"There are a lot of similarities (between Tennessee and Nebraska). You have two states that are extremely passionate about football, but unfortunately, don't have a ton of great players in their state.

"If guys earn it, we'll put them on scholarship. We've got a couple of guys we're getting ready to do that with this fall."

The Kiffins' track record with walk-ons isn't the only reason walk-ons will have an opportunity in UT's upcoming preseason camp.

Kiffin's staff demonstrated in the spring how much it valued enthusiasm and intensity. Those attributes are common to walk-ons, who might have been dismissed by big-time college football programs because of physical shortcomings.

Walk-ons might have another advantage in this camp. Despite the influx of a highly rated recruiting class, the overall talent level is down by UT standards.

The numbers are down, too. The player attrition from the Phillip Fulmer program to the Kiffin program has created more openings, as well as an enhanced opportunity for a walk-on to earn a scholarship.

Walk-on players already have a history with the Vols. They contributed to UT football under both Fulmer and coach Johnny Majors.

J. J. McClesky might be the best known of the bunch. He became a team captain and later played in the NFL.

John Chavis first made a name for himself at UT as a walk-on defensive lineman. He later became a longtime successful defensive coordinator with the Vols before taking a similar position at LSU after last season.

Nick Reveiz is the latest walk-on of note. After a solid showing in the spring, he should be a starting linebacker this fall. Center Cody Sullins, another walk-on, battled Josh McNeil for a starting position throughout the spring.

"We've got a couple of (walk-ons) we're getting ready (to give scholarships)," Lane said. "Once we do that, people will see what's happening.

"Players grow up wanting to play for Tennessee. Unfortunately, there will be some we can't take. But they will come here, prove us wrong and earn a scholarship."

Monte says it's important not to mislead walk-ons. As he put it, "There are no guarantees."

But walk-ons don't expect that. All they want is an opportunity - an opportunity to prove the recruiters wrong.

Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 34

go_vols_go writes:

florida sucks

TommyJack writes:

Good take, Adams

FWBVol writes:

I wouldn't want a team of walk-ons, but every team needs them and sometimes, as John stated, these guys become stars. That's one reason I think too much attention is sometimes paid to how many stars are next to a guy's name.

If a kid has adequate talent, a big heart and has grown up bleeding Orange, I'd rather have him than a 5-star who has always gotten by on talent and is looking for the next stop on the way to the NFL.

Yes, sadly you need players that have NFL potential to compete in the SEC, but it is still college football.

OldSmokey writes:

Give me a kid that has heart, And I'll bet on him against any kid they say has talent.

CoachNeyland writes:

These quotes are from the July 21 press conference... Coming in tomorrow's GVX, "Neyland fires Harvey Robinson" LOL

johnlg00 writes:

Greetings to my fellow insomniacs! I agree completely with FWBV and OS; there are a hundred traits that go into making a productive football player that go beyond the merely physical. Among the most important found in successful walk-ons is the desire to compete and to improve. A walk-on who earns a scholarship is a guy who never learned to take "no" for an answer. He will take coaching, he will be a loyal team-mate, he will appreciate the opportunity he is being given, he won't be intimidated, and he won't give up in the clutch. Yes, a 5-star player with those qualities is superior to most other players, but not all 5-stars HAVE those qualities. Most walk-ons DO have them or they wouldn't be out there for long.

dvhill100 writes:

5 star, 4 star, walk on, if you can do it, you get the scholarship. If you can't , you get the bus.

byobbio writes:

"national championships teams"

Dude: Learn how to write.
Or learn how to proof!

Caveman writes:

Caveman say he 6'2", 240 lbs. and carry a big stick. Me not run the 40 too fast but bleed orange thru-and-thru. Fire trying to get me to walk-on but me thinks I'm too old. Big stick would be good to trip up people even if 5 yds away :-)

oldsmokey67 writes:

actually kiffin was recruiting coord.& and co-offensive coord.he shared the play calling duties with steve sarkisian.THE time he spent there Him and coach O recruited the bulk of the talent they had there.thats's why Pete Carroll would take him back in a heartbeat.both of them. so get your facts straight.

TommyJack writes:

in response to listentothemusic:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Listen, listen. Go back and watch our losses from about '04 to '08. (CSS if you get it) The signs of doom are there if you have any objectivity. Lousy preparation, lousy discipline, lousy execution. Makes you feel sorry for the players to watch these games. I'm afraid ol' CPF just mailed it in his last 4-5 years.

CrankE writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Listen, listen. Go back and watch our losses from about '04 to '08. (CSS if you get it) The signs of doom are there if you have any objectivity. Lousy preparation, lousy discipline, lousy execution. Makes you feel sorry for the players to watch these games. I'm afraid ol' CPF just mailed it in his last 4-5 years.

Ditto.

I've said many times that all the tendencies and mistakes that killed UT in 05 and 08 were there in 04 and 07. The difference is they were able to turn a couple of those into wins instead of losses.

An even earlier example: Go listen to the UT-FSU Fiesta Bowl. Count up UT's false start penalties.

I'm not nearly as concerned with UT's 2009 W-L record as I am with how UT achieves it.

Ringleader writes:

in response to oldsmokey67:

actually kiffin was recruiting coord.& and co-offensive coord.he shared the play calling duties with steve sarkisian.THE time he spent there Him and coach O recruited the bulk of the talent they had there.thats's why Pete Carroll would take him back in a heartbeat.both of them. so get your facts straight.

Sarkisian got the job Coach K wanted. And, that is not the story Pete Carroll tells, he did request to return to USC. Get your facts straight.

TommyJack writes:

in response to CrankE:

Ditto.

I've said many times that all the tendencies and mistakes that killed UT in 05 and 08 were there in 04 and 07. The difference is they were able to turn a couple of those into wins instead of losses.

An even earlier example: Go listen to the UT-FSU Fiesta Bowl. Count up UT's false start penalties.

I'm not nearly as concerned with UT's 2009 W-L record as I am with how UT achieves it.

yessir

DennisVols writes:

Not every good H.S. player in the country is going to be identified bu Rivals or Scout. There are way too many players for that to happen. Good do have open door.
Rebuilding the Reputation of a team and a coach
Lane Kiffin and the UT Volunteers
http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/Denn...

DenverVol writes:

in response to DennisVols:

Not every good H.S. player in the country is going to be identified bu Rivals or Scout. There are way too many players for that to happen. Good do have open door.
Rebuilding the Reputation of a team and a coach
Lane Kiffin and the UT Volunteers
http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/Denn...

Dennis, you've plugged your blog in every article on this web site. Give it a rest. While I applaud your effort, your blog doesn't identify anything new. It's just regurgitated material we've all heard before plus you need to go back and proofread it. Sorry for the harshness...just had to get that off my chest.

Weatherman writes:

Isn't there a walk on kicker/punter on the team as well?

jimr07 writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Listen, listen. Go back and watch our losses from about '04 to '08. (CSS if you get it) The signs of doom are there if you have any objectivity. Lousy preparation, lousy discipline, lousy execution. Makes you feel sorry for the players to watch these games. I'm afraid ol' CPF just mailed it in his last 4-5 years.

you are right t.j. that was then this is now.

Volunatic writes:

in response to listentothemusic:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

We get it already-- you're a Fulmer fan. While I still like the guy, I'm a VOL fan. Fulmer is no longer coach of the VOLS.
I still plan to root for them, and I hope Coach Kiffin is successful, because that would mean the VOLS are successful.
Rooting for the last coach makes your opinions largely irrelevant here. Maybe you should start a hirecoachfulmer.com website.

Waldorf writes:

in response to CrankE:

Ditto.

I've said many times that all the tendencies and mistakes that killed UT in 05 and 08 were there in 04 and 07. The difference is they were able to turn a couple of those into wins instead of losses.

An even earlier example: Go listen to the UT-FSU Fiesta Bowl. Count up UT's false start penalties.

I'm not nearly as concerned with UT's 2009 W-L record as I am with how UT achieves it.

I'm glad someone else has noticed how far back it went.

Watching games even from the "glory days" of the Foolmore era, it's obvious now how much pure talent won those games in spite of the coaching (Florida 1998 as example #1). It's also amazing that the 99 team somehow managed to lose 3 games.

tennezz writes:

I like the way Kiffin and Orgeron find the talent. Get them into camp and check their footwork, speed, strength and heart. You don`t need all 4 & 5 stars to be good. Utah went undefeated and beat bama with no 5 stars and I think 1-4 star player and should have been the N. Champs!

dkdkdk writes:

some high school players played in schemes that didnt showcase their talents for example how do a wide reciever shines in a run oriented offense? Are a read and react LB that play in a blitz happy defensive scheme?

cmoore7 writes:

While at USC, Kiffin persuaded Carroll to put an undersized walk-on center on scholarship. Ryan Kalil responded by becoming a two time consensus All-American, three time All Pac 10 performer, and 1st round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers.

tdforvols writes:

A four star receiver committed to the Vols yesterday picking us over the Gators. Where is the story of this good news? The players name is Markeith Ambles. Here is a link to the story:
http://tennessee.scout.com/2/882593.html

tdforvols writes:

in response to tdforvols:

A four star receiver committed to the Vols yesterday picking us over the Gators. Where is the story of this good news? The players name is Markeith Ambles. Here is a link to the story:
http://tennessee.scout.com/2/882593.html

Never mind just found the story on the recruiting page...my bad

Bloodrunzorange writes:

Neil Kerney- the greatest walk on un UT history! Salute to the hardest working SOB from Kingsport! 92-94.

Volunatic writes:

in response to Vol_RobE:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yes, most walk-ons, whether they are from this area or not, are practice team players.
Some of them earn real gametime snaps, though, and some of those earn scholarships, and some of those go on to greatness.
Your grasp of the obvious does nothing to dampen the fans' enthusiasm for those who beat the odds and become Vol greats.

TommyJack writes:

in response to Vol_RobE:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I vote for Russo and Packer as the best team in Knoxvegas.

BY_HIS_WOUNDS_WE_ARE_HEALED writes:

JOSH DAVIS IS A WALK-ON PUNTER THIS YEAR, AND THE KID HAS GOOD HANG TIME WITH ABOUT A 45 YARD AVG.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Yep. let's get back to winning the games we should and being competitive every time out.

Perhaps we'll lose the bounce-pass out of the offense and the 2-9 D on 3rd and 12.

Bring on the Hilltoppers!

TommyJack writes:

in response to FirstAmendment:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Is it true that people are clamoring to Gainsevegas to get into the bail/bondsman bidness?

odtn#267368 writes:

Rudys of America, Come on and hop on the Lane train.

ethanfrome writes:

in response to FirstAmendment:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Bama was playing for a NC for several weeks. After losing the SECC they were playing with a deflated mind-set. That is the only reason Bama lost to Utah-period (but as a Vol fan, I took it o.k.).

Volunatic writes:

in response to FirstAmendment:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Meyer left the cupboard bare at Utah. Kyle Whittingham has done a great job rebuilding the program from scratch, though.

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