Munoz to return for 2004

Vol offensive lineman Michael Munoz confirmed today that he will be back for his senior season in 2004.

Munoz, son of NFL Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, called a 2:30 news conference where, joined by his wife, Emily, he said that he will not declare for the NFL draft but return for his final year of collegiate eligibility.

''I think coming back will give me an opportunity to achieve several goals both as an individual and as a team that I have yet to accomplish,'' he explained. ''Playing in the SEC Championship Game, winning a ring and getting Tennessee back into the national championship picture are at the top of that list. Off the field, my wife has another year of nursing school; I'm starting my master's in public administration.

"This season, we had a lot of guys on the team who some way found a way to win. When we all get another year to develop, to mature and become playmakers, I think there will be something special about this team. With our talent, we're definitely going to re-load and be able to win games we didn't win this season. I can tell you I learned a great deal as a person this year by being put into the leadership role of captain. There are a lot of great leaders on this football team, and I think there are special days ahead for all of us.''

A three-year starter at tackle, Munoz was a team captain as a junior in 2003. In fact, he and linebacker Kevin Burnett were the first juniors to serve as UT captains since 1944.

A Freshman All-American in 2000, Munoz sat out the 2001 season recuperating from knee surgery. He returned to the lineup in 2002 and started 12 of 13 games. He started all 13 games in 2003, earning second-team Coaches All-SEC recognition. He enters the 2004 season with 37 career starts.

Munoz requested a draft prospectus from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee. Reportedly, he was told he projects to be a second-round draft pick if he opted for the 2004 draft. Of course, former Vol tight end Jason Witten was told last year that he'd be a first-round pick, and he lasted until Round 3.

"I've observed other players who left early and how they're doing now,'' Munoz said. ''It could have worked out for me if I had left early, but there are a lot of things here at Tennessee that still are appealing to me ... things like goals I have yet to accomplish. Seeing other players, it's hard sometimes to put yourself in their shoes. It's just a better fit for me to stay and become more of a total athlete.''

Had Munoz elected to leave for the NFL, Tennessee would have to replace all five O-lineman who started in the Peach Bowl. The other four starters -- Scott Wells, Anthony Herrera, Chavis Smith and Sean Young -- are seniors.

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