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Runningback U: Does Tennessee have a claim to the title "RBU"?

By: Dallas Bowlin

Senior Staff Writer, Junior Editor, Content Manager, Co-Host

The All Vol Call in Show


Jamaal Lewis | Photo | Vols Wire

Many universities and college fanbases have attempted to claim the title WRU and DBU, but no other institution may have a stronger claim to the moniker of "RBU" than the University of Tennessee. Regardless, if you look at the “down years” or the golden ages, Rocky Top has been home to many great ball carriers. From Curt Watson to Haskel Stanback the list goes on and on. It would take hours, maybe even days to list them all. Here are some notable running backs who have donned the orange and white:

TAUREN POOLE (2008-2011)

Poole experienced something that not many college players will, playing under three different head coaches; Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin, and Derek Dooley. He really broke out during the 2010 season when he had six games with 100+ rushing yards. For Poole’s Tennessee career, he rushed for 1,898 yards and 17 touchdowns on 423 carries. While Poole never really found a home in the NFL that should not overshadow what he was able to do in Knoxville.

TRAVIS HENRY (1997-2000)

Henry fell victim to a crowded backfield his freshman season but was able to find his way onto the gridiron during his sophomore campaign. A part of the 1998 National Championship squad, Henry toted the ball 176 times for 970 yards and four touchdowns. In the National title game, he took 19 carries for 28 yards. In his junior season, he actually saw a decrease in carries, taking 125 attempts for 790 yards and eight touchdowns. For his senior campaign, however, he burst onto the scene with a bang, carrying the ball 253 times for 1,314 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was awarded first-team All-SEC honors by the Associated Press and to this day holds the school record for career rushing yards with 3,078. In the NFL Henry played for the Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, and Denver Broncos and was very successful.

JOHNNY MAJORS (1954-1956)

It would be a catastrophe to not mention Majors in a list of some of the best Tennessee running backs of all time. A lot of people consider Majors a quarterback due to his ability to throw the ball, but at the time he was considered a running back so that’s what we’ll call him. He finished his career at Tennessee with 1,622 rushing yards, 1,135 passing yards, 438 punt return yards, 344 kickoff yards, and 25 touchdowns. Majors was probably one of the most versatile players of all time and way ahead of his time.

JOHN KELLY (2015-2017)

Even if his teams weren't always the best, Kelly's name comes to mind when I think of really good running backs at Tennessee. In fact, in 2017, he was a member of one of the worst Tennessee teams in history, with a 4-8 overall record and an 0-8 conference record. Kelly carried for 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns on 327 tries during his time at Tennessee. Kelly has played in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams and the Cleveland Browns but has struggled to establish consistency on the field, running the ball 32 times for 96 yards and 0 touchdowns.

ALVIN KAMARA (2015-2016)

Though Kamara didn’t play long at Tennessee, he quickly became one of the most liked players in recent program history. Transferring from Alabama to Hutchinson Community College, and then Tennessee, Kamara came into Knoxville with something to prove, and boy did he. In 2016 his 312 all-purpose yards set an all-time record at Tennessee. He finished his career at Tennessee with 1,294 yards and 16 touchdowns on 210 carries in just two years at Tennessee. Kamara is currently a member of the New Orleans Saints and has had a very successful career thus far.

JAMAL LEWIS (1997-1999)

Lewis rushed for 1,364 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman in Knoxville, and finished his career with 2,677 rushing yards and 3,161 all-purpose yards. He played in the NFL for nine seasons, six with the Baltimore Ravens and three with the Cleveland Browns. Lewis ran for 10,607 yards and 58 touchdowns on 2,542 attempts during his NFL career.

Those are just a handful of the finest running backs to ever grace Shield-Watkins Field and Neyland Stadium, and with Josh Heupel and his staff's recruiting ability, there will be many, many more to come. The Vols have a three-headed monster in the back field for the 2023 season in Jabari Small, Jaylen Wright, and Dylan Sampson, with plenty of other talent waiting in the wings, such as: Cam Seldon, DeSean Bishop, and Peyton Lewis.


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