Plucky, not lucky

Say this much about the 23 seniors Tennessee football fans will salute prior to Saturday's home finale against Vanderbilt: They've had more pluck than luck.

With two games left in the 2007 regular season, this group has produced 31 wins, 16 losses and one SEC East title ('04). That isn't a great legacy but this isn't a great class. Decimated by defections and injuries, these guys had the misfortune to be part of the only Vol squad to lose to Vandy over the last 24 years. They were part of the only UT team to post a losing record in the past 19 years.

They weren't real lucky individually, either.

Consider:

Quarterback Erik Ainge missed the last four games of his sophomore year with a separated shoulder. He missed 1¾ games of his junior year with a severe ankle sprain and played the first half of his senior year hampered by a fractured finger on his throwing hand.

Tight end Brad Cottam has endured five surgeries in his four-plus years at Tennessee. He missed all but 23 snaps of his sophomore season due to injuries and missed the first nine games of his senior year with a fractured wrist.

Cornerback Inquoris Johnson suffered a career-ending shoulder injury in Game 2 of his junior season.

Linebacker Ryan Karl hurt his back lifting weights last June and played through considerable discomfort during the first six games of his senior season.

Center Cameron Mayo has seen his career wrecked by an assortment of injuries.

Defensive end Xavier Mitchell missed the last three games of his sophomore season with a shoulder injury.

Safety Jarod Parrish missed the 2005 season with a knee injury and continued struggling with knee problems in '06.

Offensive tackle Eric Young suffered a season-ending quadriceps injury in Game 8 of his senior season.

Two more players who should be playing their final home game this Saturday – cornerback Antonio Gaines and fullback David Holbert – are rehabbing season-ending knee injuries that will enable them to stick around for the 2008 season.

"This group of seniors has experienced a lot," head coach Phillip Fulmer conceded earlier this week. "They've seen a lot. They've been very important in bouncing back from a very unfamiliar position for us in '05. I'm very appreciative for their leadership.

"It's not a big number of guys, particularly when you take Antonio Gaines and David Holbert out of the mix ... and take Brad Cottam out of the mix for the most part ... and now Eric Young is out of that mix."

Though small in number, the 2007 seniors have "outstanding leadership and work ethic," Fulmer said, adding that "This group has experienced so much and been through a lot and continued to do well."

Senior Day is always an emotional time. That's especially true at Tennessee, where each senior is introduced individually as he runs through the "T" one last time.

"I think that's one of the great moments we have here at Tennessee, when they get to run through the ‘T' for the final time," Fulmer said. "To me, personally, that's one of the hardest things I do during the course of the year – saying goodbye to that group of seniors."

The Vols' 23 seniors are as follows:

Erik Ainge, Chris Brown, Sinclair Cannon, Brad Cottam, Michael Crain, Dylan Dickey, Michael Frogg, Adam Gillem, Bo Hardegree, Jonathan Hefney, Inquoris Johnson, Steven Jones, Ryan Karl, J.T. Mapu, Cameron Mayo, Xavier Mitchell, Roy Olasimbo, Jarod Parrish, Antonio Reynolds, Kirk Swearingen, Ja'Kouri Williams, Casey Woods and Eric Young.


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