Walk-ons to the rescue

It's rare that a freshman quarterback passes for nearly 300 yards and is the third-best story line in a college football game, but it happened Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

Making just his second career start, Justin Worley's 291-yard passing performance normally would be the obvious lead for every recap of Tennessee's 24-0 defeat of Middle Tennessee. This time, however, he lost out to a pair of guys who have three things in common:

1. They're redshirt freshmen.

2. They're walk-ons.

3. They're graduates of Alcoa High School.

The previously obscure celebrities are kicker Derrick Brodus and tailback Jaron Toney. Brodus left the team after failing to make an impact last spring. One hour before Saturday night's kickoff he was sitting in an off-campus apartment preparing to watch the Vol-MTSU game on television when he got a phone call from a UT representative.

It seems first-team kicker Michael Palardy had suffered a seemingly mild hamstring pull near the end of Thursday's practice that had not healed by gametime. When second-team kicker Chip Rhome pulled a muscle during pre-game warmups, the Vols suddenly found themselves with zero kickers.

"He couldn't go," head coach Derek Dooley said of Palardy. "Then Rhome went out there before the game and pulls a muscle, so we didn't have a kicker, so we had to make a call to the frat house. This is no lie. We called the frat house and had a policeman go get (Brodus) and he goes out there, suits up and nails three PATs and a field goal. He got the game ball. I was proud of him."

Aware there might be a party underway at a fraternity house on a Saturday night, Dooley suspected Brodus might be filled with more alcohol than team spirit as the 7 o'clock kickoff approached.

"I said ‘Let's get an APB out on Brodus.' It's a good thing he wasn't having too much fun on a Saturday afternoon," the head man recalled. "I told the coaches, ‘Hey, an intoxicated Brodus is better than nobody. Get him. Just get him here. Give him a breathalyzer.'"

Toney's tale isn't quite so dramatic but it's just as storybook. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder opened fall camp as the fifth-string tailback -- stuck behind senior Tauren Poole, sophomore Rajion Neal and scholarship freshmen Marlin Lane and Tom Smith.

With Neal switched to receiver because of fumbling problems, Lane running tentatively and Smith apparently headed for a redshirt year, Toney wound up getting the call Saturday night after Poole's first seven carries netted just nine yards.

Toney gained just one yard on his first carry but Worley threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Da' Rick Rogers on the ensuing play as the Vol lead swelled to 14-0. Toney then made like a workhorse on Tennessee's next possession -- carrying eight times for 34 yards, the last rush resulting in a seven-yard touchdown burst that widened the gap to 21-0 midway through the second quarter.

Naturally, inquiring minds wanted to know why Dooley played an obscure walk-on ahead of a touted scholarship freshman like Lane.

"I wanted to see Jaron Toney," the head man said. "We are searching the running game. Jaron has run really well in practice for a long time. He is a walk-on so you just always dismiss him. But we are not lighting it up running the ball, and I wanted to see Jaron. I should have played him last week (versus South Carolina)."

Ultimately, two obscure walk-ons upstaged an outstanding performance by Worley. Benched in the fourth quarter last weekend after throwing two costly interceptions, the first-year QB's confidence had to be a little shaky entering his second college start. He bolstered it, though, by completing 7 of 8 passes for 105 yards in the first quarter as Tennessee rolled to a 14-0 lead.

"Justin really played a game," Dooley said. "It is the game we were hoping he would play last week. He was just one week late. But he performed the way we have seen in practice. He was very calm and composed, still made some mistakes but what a great game: 23 of 32 for 291, no picks.

"He made a lot of good decisions, managed the offense well. We probably could have thrown another eight or 10 passes in the third quarter and he could have really had some big numbers. I'm really proud of him. He didn't let last week's performance affect him. He grew from it and played better."

Almost all of the Vols played better than they did last week, especially those two previously anonymous walk-on freshmen from Alcoa High School.

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