Greatest Vol athletes?

Justin Gatlin is technically the world's fastest human. He has done something just two other sprinters in history have done – hold the 100-meter world record at the same as the Olympic gold and World Championship gold.

Gatlin's eye-popping 9.766 would translate into an 8.93-second 100-yard dash. For those that don't think it's possible to run a sub-4.2 in the 40, here's a possible Gatlin breakdown: 4.0 for the first 40 yards, 3.5 for the second 40, 1.43 for the final 20.

That's fast.

When Ben Johnson set the world record that was voided in 1988, he ran the first 40 yards in an electronically timed 4.09 seconds. Considering the difference in a hand-held time and electronic time is .24 seconds, Johnson's 40 would translate into a hand-held 3.85-second in the 40.

Bill Webb, Tennessee's track and field coach, realized Gatlin had world-class ability early during his Vol career. Gatlin was recruited as a hurdler. His freshman season, he won the SEC outdoor 100 and 200 and ran a 13.41 in the 110 hurdles, then ran a leg on the winning 4x100 relay team. He won six NCAA individual sprint titles: the 100 and 200 twice each outdoors, and the 60 and 200 indoors.

He has always come up big on the big stage. And now that his world record time has been reduced by a hundredth of a second to reflect he's tied for the world record, he'll be even more motivated to reach his stated goal: 9.73.

Gatlin is easily one of the top 10 modern-day athletes (1950 to present) in University of Tennessee sports history, if not No. 1.

Here is my list of 10 other UT top athletes, in alphabetical order:

Doug Atkins. Atkins is the only Vol in the college football and pro football Hall of Fame. He was a terrorizing defensive end who was considered one of the premier defensive players in the NFL while with the Chicago Bears in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When motivated, he was unblockable.

Atkins, one of three Vols to have his jersey retired for his on-field play, came to Tennessee as a basketball player. At 6-feet-7 and about 240 pounds, he could also high jump 6-8, an amazing feat for a man his size.

Richmond Flowers. Flowers is one of three Vols to make All-American in football and another sport. In Flowers' case, it was track. He was a world-class sprinter and hurdler who barely missed making the Olympic team. In football, he was a receiver and returner. He led the Vols in receiving with 41 in 1967 and in kick returns in 1966 and '67. He played pro football for the Dallas Cowboys.

Willie Gault. Like Widby, Gault was an All-American in two sports: football and track. Gault was a fleet wide receiver who also excelled as a kick returner. He still holds the UT record for most kick return yardage (1,854). He also had 659 punt return yards. He played for the 1986 Super Bowl Chicago Bears. He also was an Olympian in the high hurdles. He later made the winter Olympics in the bobsled.

Gault was amazing in his blend of speed, grace and athleticism.

Todd Helton. Helton is arguably the best baseball player in school history. He is without a doubt the best Major League player from UT, with a lifetime average of over .330 in what may well be a Hall of Fame career. Helton led the Vols to the 1995 College World Series. He was a splendid hitter and an effective pitcher, setting the school record for most career saves. And he was clutch.

Helton also played quarterback for the Vols, starting several games and engineering a victory at Georgia.

Condredge Holloway. Holloway was an electric quarterback who made All-SEC in 1973. He is eighth on UT's all-time all-purpose yardage list with 4,068 and his 966 rushing yards is second all-time among Vol quarterbacks.

Holloway was an All-American in baseball in 1975, when he hit an SEC-leading .396. His career average was .353 and he was a slick fielding shortstop.

Bernard King. A cat-quick 6-7 forward, King is arguably the greatest basketball player in SEC history. He averaged 26.4 points and 12.3 rebounds while shooting 62.2 percent as a FRESHMAN. A three-time All-American and three-time SEC Player of the Year, King had career averages of 25.8 points, 13.2 rebounds. He averaged 14.3 rebounds as a junior. A fierce competitor, he once vowed never to lose again to Kentucky and he didn't, leading the Vols to five straight wins over Joe B. Hall's teams.

King led the NBA in scoring with a 30-point average one season and scored almost 20,000 points despite missing about 4.5 seasons because of injuries.

Peyton Manning. Manning is a future pro football Hall of Famer who is one of the all-time great college quarterbacks. He set a then-record with 39 college wins and his 11,201 career passing yards remain the SEC record. Manning has been a two-time NFL MVP and is considered by many the top quarterback in the pro ranks. He is one of three Vols to have his football number retired at UT for his exploits on the field.

Tom Pappas. Pappas made the Olympics in the decathlon and won the world championships in the most demanding of track events. Pappas, who is of Greek heritage, can run and jump and displays his strength in the shot put, discus and javelin. He was a two-time NCAA decathlon champion and he was ranked No. 1 in the world in the decathlon in 2001 and 2003.

Reggie White. White was one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, setting the record for most career sacks. He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP – a rare feat for a defensive player. He helped restore the storied Green Bay franchise in the 1990s when he signed as a free agent and helped the Packers reach two Super Bowls, winning one.

White still holds the Tennessee record for career sacks (32), although many said he didn't play to his potential until his senior year, when he had 15 sacks. He was the SEC Player of the Year in 1983. He is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Ron Widby. Widby is one Vol to letter in four sports – football, basketball, baseball, golf. He was an All-American in football and basketball. He played pro football and pro basketball, and later was a pro golfer. He led the SEC in scoring with a 22.1 average and led the nation with a 43.8 punting average. The Knoxville product is one of the best all-around athletes in SEC history.


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