Why they're staying

Five junior football players announced Wednesday evening that they're returning for the 2006 University of Tennessee football season rather than declare for the NFL Draft. The most popular explanation: They didn't want to leave on a sour note.

Strange as it sounds, the Vols' first losing record (5-6) in 17 years probably worked in their favor in the annual battle to keep their top junior players around for another year.

"I'm looking forward to making a great improvement on last year," fullback Cory Anderson said. "I didn't want to leave here a loser."

Defensive tackle Justin Harrell said the 5-6 disappointment also weighed heavily in his decision.

"That factored a lot," he said. "You don't want to ever leave a program going out the way we did. I know the seniors leaving this year – the guys I came in with – are very disappointed about that. I've got a chance to come back, hopefully have a good senior year, hopefully win an SEC championship and finish out on a good note."

So, what does this quest for redemption say about the five juniors?

"It says a lot," head coach Phillip Fulmer noted. "They're wanting to get the tradition back on top, as it was left to them. This group wants to leave it better than they found it."

Reluctance to leave on a losing note wasn't the only reason the five Vols are postponing their pro careers, however.

Defensive lineman Turk McBride said it's "the best thing for me and my family. The coaching staff and I have built a great relationship, and I just don't want to leave at this point."

McBride has the versatility to play either tackle or end, but he is coming off an injury plagued season that hurt his draft stock with pro scouts.

"Right now they're saying I'm a tweener (not big enough for tackle, not quick enough for end)," he said. "Last year wasn't my best. I played with a lot of injuries. I'm still hurting a little but some time off will do me good. They're predicting me to go in the fourth round, even with me hurt and everything, but I just don't think that would've been a great choice for me."

Anderson, a Knoxville native, says he never seriously considered jumping to the pros. The fact NFL Draft experts projected him as a second-day pick (Rounds 4 through 7) sealed his decision.

"Basically, I just wanted to see where I stood and what the NFL thought of me," he said. "I didn't really think about it much – maybe a couple of weeks – but I decided to come back because I love being around my teammates and I love being here at Tennessee."

Offensive tackle Arron Sears, projected as a second- to third-round pick, elected to stay partly because he wants to be a role model for Tennessee's young blockers.

"I think I've got a big part in helping these guys," he said. "The older guys helped me when I came in, and I owe something back to the young guys that are here now."

Harrell figures he still has a lot of improvement to make before playing pro ball.

"I really never had plans for leaving," he said. "It was just a process I wanted to do to see where I stood and what I needed to work on for next year. I got a second-round grade. That's good for where I'm at but I've still got a lot of things I need to work on.

Tony McDaniel, another defensive tackle, says he was projected as a Day 1 pick. He elected to return for his senior season out of loyalty to Fulmer and defensive line coach Dan Brooks.

"I always wanted to be a Vol," he said. "I love Coach Brooks and Coach Fulmer and I love my teammates. I wouldn't give up my last year here as a Vol for anything."

Now that Jesse Mahelona is out of eligibility and McBride is moving to end, McDaniel has a clear shot at the starting tackle spot opposite Harrell. That was a factor in his decision, as well.

"Yes," he conceded. "With Jesse leaving and Turk moving to D-end, and Big Ham (Harrell) the only guy coming back as a starter, it'd be good for me to come back and show the younger guys how to practice hard and play hard. I want to be a leader. I want to show guys how to be a true Vol."

Asked if improving his draft stock might be an additional reason to return, McDaniel shook his head.

"Everybody has room to improve but that wasn't the point," he said. "I wanted to play my last year, possibly get a championship for Coach Fulmer, for Coach Brooks and for the Vols."


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