'Justin' time

He played tight end as a senior at Martin Westview High School. By the time he enrolled at the University of Tennessee a year later, however, he was a 300-pounder whose future would be grabbing ball carriers, not grabbing passes. Or so everyone thought.

Justin Harrell proved the experts wrong in Saturday's season opener, grabbing a pass -- an interception, to be precise – that proved crucial in the Vols' 17-10 defeat of Alabama-Birmingham.

With Tennessee clinging to a 17-3 third-quarter lead, UAB drove to the Vol 3-yard line and appeared ready to crack the end zone. Then Harrell came to the rescue … Justin time, if you'll pardon the pun.

On second and goal, quarterback Darrell Hackney tried to lob a pass over the middle. Harrell, a 6-4, 306-pound junior defensive tackle, reacted quickly -- leaping to pluck the ball out of the air, then lumbering up field for a 29-yard return.

That "Oskie" was huge because the seven points Harrell saved proved to be the winning margin.

So, what happened on his game-saving play?

"I just saw it, stopped, and the quarterback happened to throw the ball right to me," Harrell said. "That was about it."

Harrell hadn't cradled a football in the three years since he finished up at Westview but he knew what to do with it once he made the interception. He ran through one would-be tackler and might've scored a touchdown had he not stumbled into one of his own blockers and gotten caught from behind.

"We'd had a goal line stand the first couple of plays, so I was pretty winded," he said. "When I caught the ball it was all adrenaline, and I got about 10 yards. By then, I was pretty tired, so I just tried to get as far as I could."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories