Best of Fulmer era - KO return men

Most Tennessee football fans remember Mark Levine as the unsung senior who started at tailback ahead of fabulous freshman Jamal Lewis for the first four games of the 1997 season ... a move that is still confounding 10 years later.

Levine may not have been anything special as a tailback but the Texas native was an exceptional kickoff-return specialist. In fact, his career average ranks with the best in Big Orange history. Thus, he deserves to be remembered as more than just the guy who slowed Jamal Lewis' development into a superstar.

In ranking the best kickoff-return men of the Phillip Fulmer era (1992-present), I wanted to look beyond the yards-per-return averages and try to determine which guys did the best job of squeezing every yard possible out of a runback. Anybody can get behind a well-formed "wall" of blockers and run 30 yards upfield. The guys I admire are the ones who can generate some yards on their own.

That said, here are my rankings of the best kickoff-return men of the Fulmer era:

1. Mark Levine (1996): He didn't have blazing speed or flashy moves but he had a knack for finding seams and providing decent field position on virtually every possession. Levine returned 17 kicks for 431 yards (25.4 average) as the primary return man in '96, then ran back 10 kicks for 208 yards (20.8 average) while sharing the job with Dwayne Goodrich in '97. Levine's career numbers show 27 returns for 639 yards, a 23.7 average.

2. Peerless Price (1998): The Peerless One returned a kickoff 100 yards vs. Alabama in helping Tennessee win the national title in '98. He finished that season with 14 runbacks for 389 yards, a whopping 27.8-yard average. He returned just five kicks in the previous three seasons, however, averaging a nondescript 18.2 yards. Also a standout wide receiver, his career mark on 19 returns was 25.3 yards.

3. Billy Williams (1993-94): The slender Alcoa native posted outstanding career numbers – 30 returns for 722 yards and a 24.1 average. Still, he was considerably more effective as a junior (13 returns for 369 yards, 28.4 average) than he was as a senior (17 returns for 353 yards, 20.8 average).

4. Leonard Scott (1999-2002): Track guys tease you with all of that speed but they generally lack football skills. Scott is a prime example. He couldn't avoid a tackle and he couldn't break a tackle, but he could cover 40 yards in 4.3 seconds, and that was good enough to earn him second place behind fellow sprint star Willie Gault (who ran back kickoffs AND punts) on UT's career return-yardage list. Scott finished with 77 kickoff returns for 1,788 yards, a 23.2 average. Imagine what he could've done if he'd had a move or two.

5. Corey Larkins (2001-04): At 5-7 and 200 pounds, he was too small to be an every-down tailback but this mighty-mite was a solid return specialist. Sharing the kickoff runback duties for four years, he finished with 63 returns for 1,307 yards, a solid 20.7 average.

6. Shawn Summers (1995): Although he was more effective returning punts than kicks, the Oak Ridge native still proved productive in his lone year as the primary kickoff guy, hauling back 12 for 269 yards and a 22.4 average. For his career he had 16 returns for 366 yards, a 22.9 mark.

7. Terry Fair (1995-97): Like Summers, Fair was a better punt returner than kickoff returner. Still, he shared the job for parts of three seasons and finished with 11 returns for 253 yards, an average of 23.0.

8. Dwayne Goodrich (1997): He wasn't particularly nifty, instinctive or elusive. He was reasonably dependable, though, which enabled him to return 13 kicks for 282 yards (21.7 average) in '97. His career numbers show 16 runbacks for 343 yards, a 21.4 average.


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