As the showdown with Wyoming looms just two weeks away in Nashville, the workouts and pressure begin to build.
The Tennessee coaching staff are looking for a few good players to fill voids created by last year’s NFL draft. With a top caliber team such as UT, the stakes are high. Juniors often are given a chance to head to the fields of the NFL for big money leaving the college program without a player, which they had originally planned to have on campus for four years.
University of Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer feels that this is not necessarily a negative. Though losing talented players can be costly to the program, it’s also an opportunity to give the team exposure from young talent waiting in the wings.
“It’s (leaving early for the NFL’s effect on your team) a two-edged sword,” said Fulmer. “On the one hand, I’m pleased the kids have developed their skills to a point where they have a chance to compete at the next level. Obviously, you aren’t pleased with the deficit it leaves on your football team.”
Although, the departure does give students coming into the UT program a chance to play early. “It would be much better if our freshmen could come in and red shirt for a year, get established academically and mature physically,” Fulmer said.
One freshman, whom Fulmer feels needs to gain a lot of maturation, is quarterback prospect James Banks. The six-foot-three, 195-pound freshman, from Indianapolis, was expected to be further along than he is at this time. But in Fulmer’s words, “James is in for an awakening. He is not ready to play here, and he is going to have to challenge himself to earn a spot.”
Banks replied, “Coach Fulmer is right. I do have a lot to learn. The speed of the game at this level is much greater. I am not as sharp, but I have a lot of speed too and I am looking forward to proving that I belong here.”
A few players that are expected to make an impact this year include: Omar Gaither a six-foot-two, 215-pound linebacker. Gaither was a high school All-American and the draft left a spot available. Parys Haralson is a six-foot-two, 235-pound defensive end that has shown up big this past week in practice. One member of the UT coaching staff commented on Haralson, “He’s always around the ball, and he likes to mix it up.”
Perhaps the biggest impact player for 2002 from the freshmen class could come at wide receiver because of the absence of Donte’ Stallworth, who left for the National Football League after his junior season and was a first round selection by the New Orleans Saints.
Speedster Chris Hannon a six-foot-four, 180-pound wide receiver has all the tools to walk onto the field and play now. He ran track in high school and is reported to have better hands than fellow track star turned football player Leonard Scott. He ran a 10.5 100 meters in high school, and his height will allow him to pull balls away from defensive backs. His route running is the one area he needs to work on improving.
Freshman Gerald Riggs, Jr. a five-foot-11, 217-pound running back and Jonathan Wade, who is 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, are wide-out prospects that are expected to play this season.
The freshmen coming in will all have an opportunity to play if they prove themselves on the practice field. Coach Fulmer summed it up by stating, “About half of our freshmen classes each year have played. If they (freshmen) are ready, we play them. We don’t search out young men to red shirt; we search out people to play.” And play they will.

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