Repeating UT Football History?

A quarter of a century ago the Tennessee Vols were struggling for football respectability, coming off a 5-6 season in which they played solid defense but sputtered on offense against one of the toughest schedules in the country.

Sound familiar?

That 1980 team dropped three games by a total of seven points — to Georgia 16-15, USC 20-17 and Virginia 16-13 — while the 2005 team dropped three games by a total of eight points to South Carolina 16-15, Alabama 6-3 and Vanderbilt 28-24.

Consternation in Big Orange Country ensued after each of those campaigns that came with high expectations only to end in deep disappointment.

Is it a case of history repeating itself?

Well if history was on rewind last season, it could be a good sign for the future because twenty five years ago the Vols bounced back with an 8-4 record, which was climaxed with a victory over Wisconsin in the long ago defunct Garden State Bowl.

Although that 1981 season isn't recalled as one of Tennessee's best, it was a pivotal achievement because it ended a three-year streak devoid of bowl games and sparked a seven-year run of post season appearances, including an SEC Championship in 1985 and memorable upset of Miami in the Sugar Bowl.

The Vols again slipped to 5-6 in 1988, but didn't have another losing season until last year, giving them 24 winning seasons and bowl appearances over a period of 25 years.

It all turned around in 1981 as the Vols managed to capture eight wins in 12 games despite being outscored 265 to 242 for the season. More remarkable is the fact Tennessee suffered a 44-0 loss at Georgia and a 43-7 setback at USC to begin the ‘81 season.

None of this is to suggest the Vols will face extreme adversity against California and Florida to start the 2006 season, but there are further circumstances harkening back to those bygone days worth noting.

Tennessee's starting right guard in 1981 was high school All-American, and true freshman, Bill Mayo of Dalton, Ga., who got his Baptism by fire in Athens, Ga., and went on to become a four-year starter for the Vols. Now his son, Cameron Mayo, is a red shirt freshman and O-line backup at guard and center. Cameron won't face the trials his father did at Tennessee, but the questions regarding UT's offensive line are much the same as they were 25 years ago. It's not inconceivable that a true freshman, say Jacques McClendon or Ramone Johnson, could become a starter before the year is out.

Tennessee's leading rusher during that comeback campaign of ‘81 was Parade High School All-American James Berry of Natchez, Miss. A senior and two-year starter Berry didn't have the benefit of great blocking but was a talented back and the Vols leading ground gainer two years in a row. Now nearly 25 years removed from that breakthrough fall the Vols are recruiting James Berry's son, Eric Berry, a 6-foot, 182-pound quarterback from Creekside High School in Fairburn, Ga., who projects as a college cornerback or receiver.

Berry turned a 4.46 time at Auburn with a 32-inch vertical, 4.43 short shuttle and 7.66 three-cone drill. He has good brakes and an excellent burst out of his breaks, which should make for a smooth transition to college corner.

Major powers are lining up to sign the four-star athlete including his favorites Georgia, Miami, Ohio State, Texas, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia Tech.

"I like Georgia, Miami, Tennessee, Ohio State, Tennessee and Texas," Berry told's Ryan Jordan. "I don't really have a leader but Tennessee may have a slight advantage.

"When I went up there they told me I had the opportunity to play anything I wanted. I like to have that versatility to play a bunch of positions. I like the mixture of offense and defense. Of course, my dad played at Tennessee also."

Getting a prospect of Berry's ability would be a great way for Tennessee to connect to its more successful football past.

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