Best of Fulmer era - punt return men

Nothing in college football offers more excitement – or more big-play potential – than a punt return. If you "break one," you're likely to break open the game, as well.

Tennessee enjoyed tremendous success on punt returns in the early years of the Phillip Fulmer era (1992-1997). Except for one year of quality work by Mark Jones, however, Vol punt returns have been pretty nondescript over the past decade.

Strange as it sounds, the top three punt-return specialists of the Fulmer era were the first three – Shawn Summers (1992-93 and '95), Nilo Silvan ('94) and Terry Fair (1996-97). They set a standard that their successors have been unable to match.

That said, here are my rankings of the punt-return specialists during the Fulmer era (1992-present):

1. Terry Fair (1996-97): Also a standout cornerback, he posted two of the six longest punt returns in school history – 86-yarders vs. Arkansas and UCLA in 1996. For his career, he returned 53 punts for 745 yards, a healthy average of 14.0 per runback. Fair had it all – speed, vision and the ability to people miss.

2. Shawn Summers (1992-93, 95): A reserve defensive back throughout his Vol career, this Oak Ridge native clearly earned his scholarship on special teams. He recorded a 77-yard punt return vs. Cincinnati as a freshman in '92 and finished his career with 84 runbacks for 942 yards, an exceptional 11.2-yard average.

3. Nilo Silvan (1994): Given the impact this speedy Louisiana native had returning punts, you wonder why he got so few opportunities. Silvan's career stats show 21 runbacks for 409 yards, a mind-boggling 19.5-yard average. In spite of this obvious knack for the job, he was the primary return man for just one season. He made the most of the opportunity, however, returning 15 punts for 272 yards in '94, producing an 18.1 yards-per-return average. That mark has been topped just twice in school history – by Bill Blackstock (25.9 in 1951) and by Walter Slater (20.4 in 1941).

4. Mark Jones (2002-03): Following five years of mediocrity, the Vol return game was revived during Jones' senior year of '03. After averaging just 9.2 yards per runback in '02, he returned 20 punts for 303 yards – a whopping 15.1 average – in his swan song. Only one Vol posted a better single-season mark over the past 47 years – Silvan in '94. Jones finished his career with 46 runbacks for 543 yards, a quality average of 11.8 per return. The versatile Vol also started at safety and wide receiver during his days on The Hill.

5. Eric Parker (1998-2000): Although injuries severely hindered his career as a wide receiver, Parker managed to stay healthy long enough to haul back 107 punts. Despite good speed and flashy moves, his return average (8.7) was just that ... average.

6. Rashad Baker (2001): A four-year starter at safety, Baker doubled as the Vols' chief punt-return specialist as a sophomore. He didn't make many mistakes but he didn't make much happen, either, averaging a so-so 8.8 yards on 62 career runbacks.

7. Jonathan Hefney (2004-07): A four-year starter in the Vol secondary, he peaked in 2006 by ranking No. 17 nationally with a 12.1-yard punt return average. As UT fans are acutely aware, the guy simply fell apart as a senior in 2007. In addition to having a poor year at safety, he was so inept on returns (14 for 89 yards, 6.4 average) that he surrendered the job to freshman Dennis Rogan at midseason. Hefney's career numbers show 67 returns for 559 yards, an 8.3 average.


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