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 firstname.lastname@example.org.