The case for in-state talent

Some Tennessee football fans are concerned that four of the Vols' first five recruiting commitments for 2007 are in-state products. They're even more concerned by speculation that half of the ‘07 signees could be homegrown.

Chill out. The idea that "You can't win with Tennessee players" is hogwash. Some of the greatest teams in UT sports history have relied heavily on in-state talent. For instance:

The 1985 "Sugar Vols" football team – probably the most beloved squad in program history – had a decidedly homegrown flavor. Nashville natives Keith Davis and Jeff Powell shared the tailback duties. The offensive line featured in-staters Harry Galbreath (Clarksville), Bruce Wilkerson (Philadelphia), Daryle Smith and John Bruhin (Powell) and David Douglas (Spring City). The top defender was linebacker Dale Jones (Cleveland). His cohorts included linebacker Bryan Kimbro (Dickson), tackle Robby Scott (Decatur) and safety Chris White (Cleveland). All that '85 bunch did was butcher a top-ranked Auburn team in September and hammer a heavily favored Miami squad in the Sugar Bowl to finish No. 4 nationally.

Then there's the 1995 UT baseball team. NCAA Player of the Year Todd Helton hailed from Knoxville, as did slugging outfielder Bubba Trammell. They combined with hurler R.A. Dickey of Nashville to guide Tennessee to a third-place finish in the College World Series.

Not convinced yet? OK. Consider the 1999-2000 Vol basketball squad that won a school-record 26 games. The stars included C.J. Black (Chattanooga), Tony Harris (Memphis), Vincent Yarbrough (Cleveland) and Ron Slay (Nashville). The role players included Harris Walker (Chattanooga), Charles Hathaway (Nashville), Del Baker (Cleveland) and Terrence Woods (Memphis).

Here are a few bonus picks:

The 1997-98 Lady Vol basketball team went 39-0 en route to the NCAA title, winning by an average of 30 points per game. The headlines went to "The Three Meeks" (Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings, Semeka Randall) but the player who got them the ball and held the team together was point guard Kellie Jolly of Sparta.

The Lady Vol softball team just qualified for its second consecutive College World Series appearance. Although star pitcher Monica Abbott hails from California, 10 of her teammates grew up right here in Tennessee.

Finally, have you ever heard of Patrick Willis? If not, you will. He's a linebacker from Bruceton who is a first-team preseason All-American heading into his senior year at OLE MISS. Vol fans scarcely noticed when the unsung in-stater signed with the Rebels four years ago but they'll be acutely aware of him as the honors mount this fall.

No one is suggesting that UT award 80 percent – or even 50 percent – of its scholarships in a given sport to in-state athletes. That's unrealistic. But the idea that "You can't win with Tennessee players" is unrealistic, too.

Just ask Dale Jones and the rest of the '85 Sugar Vols.


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