Up front: the offensive line
By: William Allen
The All Vol Call in Show
The Tennessee football program took a huge step last season, winning six of their last seven games, including the Gator Bowl win over Indiana. It wasn’t a championship run, but it brought an influx of excitement to the fans, media, coaching staff, alumni and boosters. Looking at the Vols’ strengths heading into the 2020 season, the offensive line will be special with Trey Smith returning and Cade Mays transferring in from Georgia. This offensive line could be as good as the 1998 National Championship line. Rewind the clock and you’ll realize the Vols were never short on great offensive linemen who were drafted and played in the NFL.
Raleigh McKenzie was a mean Offensive Guard and Center that played for the Vols from 1981-1984. McKenzie played alongside All-American greats Bill Mayo and Super Bowl XXXI Champion tackle Bruce Wilkerson. Running back Johnnie Jones set the Vols 1984 single season rushing record with McKenzie as the anchor of the Offensive Line. Jones rushed for a blazing 1290 yards and 10 TD’s on 229 attempts. McKenzie, nicknamed “Rallo” went on to become a Super Bowl Champion for the Washington Redskins in 1987 and 1991.
Sophomore Wanya Morris, the Grayson High School product, has potential to be as good as former offensive lineman Chad Clifton, who starred for the Vols from 1995 to 1998. Clifton played for the Green Bay Packers from 2000 to 2011, won Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 and was a Pro Bowler in 2007 and 2010 in the NFL. On September 22, 2018 Clifton was interviewed by the Knoxville News Sentinel praising former coach and current Athletic Director Philip Fulmer. “This is a place he needs to be. Vol Nation is much better having him back.” Fulmer hired current Vols football head coach Jeremy Pruitt who is 13-12 heading into his third season.
The late legendary Johnny Majors coached at Tennessee from 1977-1992. Majors’ offensive line to the NFL pipeline included players such as the twins Raleigh and Reggie Mckenzie, Harry Galbreath, Charles McRae, Antonio Davis and many more. College coaches like Majors, Joe Paterno and Paul “Bear” Bryant were celebrities during these times. The recorded halftime locker room banter by these legendary coaches is forever a part of college football history. Majors recently passed away on June 3, 2020. Phillip Fulmer became the Vols head football coach after Majors left for Pittsburgh in 1993 and produced great NFL talent such as Cosey Coleman, Fred Weary, Chad Clifton and Scott Wells.
Current Vols returning junior offensive lineman Jerome Carvin and sixth year senior starting center Brandon Kennedy are working towards greatness this offseason to continue building on the physical offensive line play from seasons past to aggressively polished present schemes. Darnell Wright and Jamir Johnson bring a gritty physicality and experience to this year's offensive line. Starting the season 0-2 last year was a difficult learning curve with losses to Georgia State and BYU, but Pruitt’s 2020 offensive line should be mentally prepared and hungry. With away games early to Oklahoma and Georgia late in the season, the Vols offensive line toughness will be tested from start to finish. History of the past VFL to present will always be preserved.