The Vol coaching staff challenged by the lure of NFL dollars tempting several underclassmen had already been dealt harsh setbacks with the announcements that Jr. defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and Jr. wide receiver Donte Stallworth were headed to the pros.
The early departures left the defensive line with zero returning starters from last year's squad. On the other side of the ball, the receiving corps looked to be headed for a similar fate after Thursday's announcement that Donte Stallworth would forgo his senior year and make himself eligible for the NFL draft.
Vol Fans and coaches alike sweated it out until the final day of draft declaration before learning of Kelley Washington's decision to remain at the University of Tennessee. Washington, after many days and nights of prayer arrived at his decision with the help of his mother's encouragement, urging him that seeing him play at Tennessee for one more year was a sacrifice she was happy to make.
Coach Fulmer, somewhat surprised by the good news, was elated to discover that his re-recruitment had paid off, in dividends measured by happiness and pride rather than NFL dollars. Coach Fulmer's commitment to Washington for the coming 2002 season is to make him the go-to guy for the Vols and improving on his team leading 1,000 plus receiving yards of the 2001 campaign.
The Vols will have ample opportunity to break-in new receivers next year such as Tony Brown, Montrell Jones, and others. However, Washington along with tight end Jason Witten (technically not a receiver) will insure that the Vols do nothing to tarnish the school's moniker of Wide Receiver U.
Just how big is this for the Vols? Consider this. From the 2001 season, the Vols loose Sr. wide outs Bobby Graham and Eric Parker along with Jr. receiver Donte Stallworth. Had Kelley Washington gone, the Vols would have lost those responsible for over 81% of their receiving yards. Kelley Washington accounted for over 42% of those.
Yea, but the #1 recruit in the nation? Sure. Recruiting is an in-exact science based on comparison, evaluation and potential. Coach Fulmer just successfully recruited a big, strong young man that has proven he can play in the SEC. One capable of big plays, multiple positions and definite NFL potential!