Jeff Hall's clutch field goals provided the winning margin twice during the Vols' march to the '98 BCS title. Fourteen years later, he is a member of the Christian Academy of Knoxville football staff that is sending two outstanding prospects into the Big Orange fold. Brett Kendrick is a massive offensive lineman. Josh Smith is a rangy wide receiver. Both exhibit big-time potential as their senior season of high school football approaches.
"Brett Kendrick and Josh Smith are certainly more than capable of playing at the next level," Hall said recently. "Brett has been protecting the blind side of all-star quarterback, Charlie High, and did a phenomenal job. He has incredibly quick feet. He's 6-5 and about 280. He's going to get bigger and he's going to stay quick."
Smith caught 96 passes for 1,911 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior last fall in helping CAK roll to the state title.
"Josh was the leading receiver in the state of Tennessee last year," Hall said. "He ran a 4.58 forty at the Nike Camp down in Atlanta, then at UT a few weeks ago he ran a 4.51."
That level of speed, coupled with Smith's growth potential, convinced the Vols to make an offer.
"He's a 6-2, 180-pound kid. He's probably going to put on 15-20 pounds his first two years," Hall said. "Can he play at the next level? Yeah. You've got a kid that's 6-2 and potentially 200 pounds running in the 4.4s and 4.5s and he can jump through the roof. He hurdles somebody in just about every game we play.
"I know a lot of folks are comparing him to other receivers in the past. Well, he's better. He's better."
For a small private school, Christian Academy of Knoxville features a bunch of major-college prospects.
"We've got a lot of kids at CAK who probably will be able to play at the Division 1 level," Hall said, "and I'm hoping a lot more of them will start popping up in the news and committing."
Fourteen years have not aged Hall, who looks much the same as he did while serving as the Vols' No. 1 place-kicker on the '98 national championship squad. Naturally, he and his former teammates love reliving their glory days.
"Whenever we get together as former teammates, that's what we talk about," Hall said. "When we won our first SEC championship in '97, Coach (Phillip) Fulmer told us, 'Guys, it won't mean as much to you until you get older.' It was so true. Now, as we are older, here we are 15 years later, and it is so special. You think back on the chemistry we had and the camaraderie. Getting back and talking with these guys about those incredible experiences is special."
Few players did more to make the 1998 season special than Hall. He booted a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the opener at Syracuse, giving the Vols a heart-stopping 34-33 victory. He came back a week later to nail another clutch game-winner, this one producing a 20-17 overtime upset of second-ranked Florida.
Humble guy that he is, Hall shrugs off his role in the national championship season.
"I just happened to be at the right place at the right time," he said. "There are so many guys who had longer kicks. There were so many guys that had better field-goal percentages than I did. There were so many guys that made more 50-yard field goals or whatever.
"What makes me feel good about my time at UT is that, whenever the game was on the line, I did my job. I can sleep at night. I walked away from The Hill with my (sheep) skin and I've been able to set roots here in Knoxville and raise a family."
Settling down in Knoxville is easy when you're remembered as a football hero. The neighbors aren't nearly as friendly if you're remembered as a goat.
"If you miss one of those (clutch) kicks I might be living in Nashville or back home in Winchester," Hall said with a smug grin. "There, I'd know they loved me ... at least my parents would (laughs)."
All joking aside, Hall feels blessed to have played for a Tennessee team that won two SEC titles and a national championship in his four years on The Hill.
"It was a very special time with a lot of special opportunities for me," he said. "I'm proud that I was prepared and did my job."