Steve DeLong, a shining talent at a time when Tennessee football was struggling, died Wednesday.
DeLong, 67, had suffered a broken neck and bruised spinal cord in 2002 when he fell down stairs near his Newport home. Left partially paralyzed, DeLong persevered through a lengthy hospitalization and rehab stint.
His death came Wednesday at Mercy Medical Center St. Mary’s in Knoxville. Funeral arrangements are pending.
He won the Outland Trophy in 1964 as college football’s top interior lineman.
“He was a great player on a very average team,’’ said Doug Dickey, DeLong’s coach in 1964.
“To have won that award was an unusual accomplishment, but he was truly deserving of it. It was the first national award won by a Tennessee player.’’
Dickey was DeLong’s third coach in three years.
He played for Bowden Wyatt in 1962 when the Vols went 4-6. His second coach was Jim McDonald in 1963 on a 5-5 team.
Dickey’s 1964 team went 4-6-1, yet DeLong’s prowess stood out.
He was named to the SEC All-Sophomore team in 1962 and was first-team All-SEC in 1963 and 1964.
DeLong was twice an All-American and in 1964 was recognized as the nation’s best defensive lineman by the Columbus Touchdown Club, the Birmingham Touchdown Club and Look magazine.
Following his senior year DeLong was MVP of the Senior Bowl and was the sixth player selected by both the NFL Chicago Bears and AFL San Diego Chargers in their respective 1965 drafts.
He signed with the Chargers and played through 1971. His final NFL season was with Chicago in 1972.
DeLong was enshrined by the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
DeLong came to UT from Norfolk, Va. His brother Ken was an All-SEC tight end for the Vols from 1967-69.
DeLong’s son Keith was an outstanding middle linebacker from 1985-88. They are UT’s only father-son All-America combination.