Mike LaSorsa, a Korean War veteran who came to Tennessee as a walk-on football player and finished his career as captain of the 1960 team, died Saturday at his Knoxville home, after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 77.
Mr. LaSorsa started at left end in 1959 and 1960, playing at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, and wearing No. 81 on his orange and white jersey. He was 25 years old his senior season in Knoxville.
"We've been the best of friends over the years," teammate Lon Herzbrun, who played at Tennessee 1955-57, said. "He was a very competitive and caring person. We coached together at Fulton High School and played together on the Knoxville Bears. I never had an argument with him."
Mr. LaSorsa was a native of Hudson Falls, N.Y., who attended Providence (R. I.) Central High. He was "discovered" while in the Army by former Vols Bill "Moose" Barbish and Jimmy Hahn.
He arrived on campus as a freshman in 1956 behind 125 scholarship players, giving up a job in Providence unloading 100-pound bags of cement out of boxcars. He had no idea of what to expect, except that we was looking for a coach named Ralph Chancey.
He redshirted in 1957, continued his climb up the depth chart, and finished his time as a Vol as a third-team All-SEC selection in 1960. One of his most memorable moments came when he returned a fumble 40 yards for a score in the 1960 Alabama game, highlighting a 20-7 Vol victory.
He also caught a TD pass in the 1958 Vanderbilt game from tailback Bill Majors, giving the Vols a 10-6 victory over the No. 15-ranked Commodores and knocking them out of a Gator Bowl trip. He caught 16 passes during his career for 162 yards and one score.
He joins J.J. McCleskey (1992) and Nick Reveiz (2009-10) as walk-ons who made it to be named team captain.
After leaving the University of Tennessee, Mr. LaSorsa went on to a 33-year teaching career at Knoxville's Fulton, South-Young and South-Doyle high schools, teaching geography, health and driver's education. He also coached golf and baseball. He also started the Fulton High Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) chapter.
How competitive was he?
When a fight broke out on Shields-Watkins Field during the 1962 Ole Miss game, nearly two years after his last game as a Vol, Mr. LaSorsa went wading into the fray brandishing an umbrella.
Services for Mr. LaSorsa will be Wednesday morning at 10:30 at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 414 W. Vine Avenue in downtown Knoxville.