The MVP For UT vs. S.C. Is MIA

Picking out a key player for Tennessee in its game Saturday against South Carolina is difficult since the Vols needs are so vibrant and varied.

It could be offensive guard Anthony Herrera, who will return after a two-week absence with an ankle injury to provide much needed experience up front. It could be tailback Cedric Houston, who will return to a more prominent role for the Vols for the first time since he suffered a torn ligament in his thumb against Rutgers. It could be Casey Clausen, who returned to his starting job at quarterback last week despite a fractured collarbone that clearly limited his effectiveness. It could be defensive end Karlton Neal, who returned from knee surgery last week to replace starter Demetrius Veal, who is out again this week with an injured calf muscle. Or it could be senior place kicker Alex Wall, who returned last week after suffering an injured quadricep before the season1s second game against MTSU.

Yes, it could be any of those walking wounded that are playing at less than 100 percent in an effort to get Tennessee turned around from its two-game slide and 1-3 start in the SEC. Just like it could be redshirt sophomore wide receiver Tony Brown, who will get his fourth start this season.

But the choice here is the man Brown is replacing the much discussed, sometimes controversial, often criticized, always interesting, undeniably talented Kelley Washington.

Unless you've been vacationing on Mars, you no doubt recall that Washington missed the first two games of the season with a partially torn knee ligament and he's missed the last two games with complications from a concussion. He also, reportedly, has an injured achilles and speculation regarding The Future's future continues to swirl. His plans are to finish out the season at Tennessee and apply for early entry in next spring's NFL Draft.

That is a path Washington was free to pursue after his freshman season on The Hill because he was 21 years old and his class would have graduated last spring. However, Washington didn't follow wide receiver teammate Donte Stallworth to pro stardom as a first-round pick. Instead he chose to return to Tennessee in hopes of improving his game, competing for a national championship and playing home games with his mother in attendance.

The young athlete who toiled four years in the minor leagues as a catcher before growing into a big-time pass catcher, came to Tennessee on his own dime and only asked for a chance. As a most atypical walk on ( one with size, speed, strength and skill ) Washington got a lot of requests for interviews upon his arrival at UT, but shunned the spotlight saying he hadn't done anything, yet.

That soon changed as Washington stepped in for an injured Stallworth and immediately proved to be an extraordinary play-maker, catching six passes for 96 yards in Tennessee1s 13-3 victory at Arkansas. The next week against LSU, Washington set a new single-game receiving record at Wide Receiver U with 11 catches for 256 yards and a 70-yard touchdown. He finished the season with 64 catches for 1010 yards and five touchdowns the fourth best yardage total by a receiver in school history.

Averaging over 100 yards per game as a sophomore, Washington was on pace to surpass that fantastic first-year total until injuries overtook him. Now he's listed as out indefinitely which is a term that has inconclusive connotations.

Since we lack the medical expertise or clinical information to offer qualified insight, it's best for all concerned to let the situation take its course before speculating further on Washington's status.

However, it doesn't take a medical degree to watch the tape of the Georgia game and see the nature of Washington's injury. After making a leaping grab of a James Banks pass over the middle at the Georgia 32, Washington outmaneuvered Ryan Thomas and blew past Kentrell Curry toward the right sideline. As he approached the 10 yard-line, he was grabbed around the waist by a trailing Ryan Davis and around the shoulders by Sean Jones and twisted to the ground at the 7. With a player around his legs and his arms pinned to his side as he protected the football, Washington wasn't able to brace himself in any manner and the force of the tackle was absorbed by the head and the neck as he crashed to the turf his head snapped back sharply, struck the turf before recoiling forward at an awkward angle.

Certainly there was potential on that play for damage to either his head, neck or both. Washington remained on the turf and later complained of numbness in his extremities.

Since neck and head injuries are the most serious a player can suffer, all due caution has to be taken to assure Washington's health. He gave up a lot to return to Tennessee and deserves the finest medical treatment as well as the best wishes of Big Orange faithful. All concerned can take heart in the fact Washington is upright, mobile and cognizant.

Likewise his situation should serve as a solemn reminder to teammates that football is a violent game filled with somber overtones. It offers tremendous reward and great risk and, therefore, has to be played with unbridled passion.

Ultimately, a football player has to treat every down as if it is his last.

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