Rags-to-riches saga

University of Tennessee football fans who were around when the Southeastern Conference had 10 teams and head coaches made LESS money than the President of the United States probably remember Chris White.

After four years as a little-used reserve, White sprang from anonymity to become perhaps the greatest rags-to-riches story in Vol history. The rangy fifth-year senior made a huge splash in 1985, leading the entire NCAA with nine interceptions.

Since that was 22 years ago, some people have forgotten about White. Not Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer, however. He was reminded of White while watching another unheralded Vol safety last spring.

Like White in '85, Jarod Parrish is a rangy fifth-year senior. Like White, he did nothing worthy of note during his first four years on campus. Like White, he isn't especially fast or athletic. Like White, however, he may be ready to make a splash in his final college season. Parrish intercepted four passes in the Vols' three spring scrimmages, giving the defense a lift and giving Fulmer a feeling of deja vu.

"I don't know how it's going to work out," the head man said today at his annual media golf outing, "but you guys remember Chris White. He didn't play a lot going into his senior, then ended up making All-America. Jarod Parrish is a guy that showed that kind of ability during the course of spring practice. Every time we turned around he was in the right place making a play.

"I think that's a credit to (secondary) coach (Larry) Slade, but also a credit to that young man for how he stuck to it and worked hard. He played some in the past but not a significant amount. Now it looks like he's got a chance to at least solidify that position."

To keep the first-team strong safety berth he earned during the spring, the 6-3, 190-pound Parrish must hold off two junior college transfers – DeAngelo Willingham and Nevin McKenzie. Both will be bidding for starting jobs in the secondary when preseason drills open on Aug. 3.

"You don't sign junior college players unless you expect them to play and contribute," Fulmer said. "We got a couple of junior college guys that we'll throw in the mix real quickly – either for starting positions or to create depth. We'll see where they are."

Meanwhile, a couple of obscure 5-9, 180-pounders – senior Antonio Gaines and sophomore Marsalous Johnson – finished spring practice as the No. 1 cornerbacks. They combined for just 9 tackles and 2 pass breakups last fall while seeing mostly mop-up duty. Still, Fulmer is upbeat.

"I couldn't ask any more than what Antonio Gaines and Marsalous Johnson did during the course of spring practice," the head man said. "But they'll be pushed by some younger guys coming in."

Minus 2006 starters Jonathan Wade, Antwan Stewart and Demetrice Morley, Tennessee's secondary will be painfully young this fall. Even so, Fulmer seems to be optimistic.

"When you lose three starters, you obviously have concerns," he said. "Going into spring practice it was a huge concern. Coming out of spring practice it was less of a concern because of the attitude those guys took to prove they could play."

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