Standing Tall in Tulsa

While Tennessee's offense against nature has stumbled through one of the most miserable seasons in the history of its proud and illustrious football program, a Volunteer castoff is enjoying a career best campaign for an undefeated squad in the BCS title chase.

A former US Army All-American wideout Slick Shelley never made a name for himself over two seasons on The Hill. He did have a nice day during the 2007 spring game with three receptions for 56 yards, but he never had a catch in competition and was largely written off as another one of the untold high school stars who couldn't make it at Tennessee.

But Shelley, who caught 192 passes for 2,752 yards and 39 touchdowns during his high school career at Ft. Smith (Ark.) Southside, turned out to be too slick for those oh so quick to label him a bust. After his impressive outing in the Orange and White Game he quietly exited stage left and shortly after transferred to Tulsa. He had to sit out the 2007 campaign but is a starter this fall, getting his first taste of game action.

"His size is a big part of what makes him special, he's 6-foot-4 and he has deceptive speed, but the thing he can do is go get the ball," said Southside assistant coach Travis Biggs. "Especially his senior year we had a quarterback that's a good athlete, decent high school player, but he wasn't an exceptional quarterback like we had the year before. So Slick would be overthrown a little bit, under thrown, thrown to the side. It wasn't usually a perfect pass but Slick could really go over the defender or come back after the ball. He's really got a knack for going after passes."

That's ironic because the Vols lack a go-to receiver with size and Shelley is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound target with a 38-inch vertical and excellent hands. He's not a blazer but he's quick off the line and runs disciplined routes. He's effective finding seams and precisely times his jumps.

Certainly Shelley's exodus from Knoxville couldn't have been better timed as he left an offense in transition and a year later became an intregal part of the nation's No. 1 offense, scoring an average of 57 points and 625 yards over eight games. He's averaging 18.6 yard per catch with a long of 64 yards. He also returned a punt for a touchdown. The Golden Hurricane offense is converting third downs at a 61 percent clip and hasn't been held below 20 points in two years.

By comparison the Vols have gone over the 20-point barrier only once in the last six games and are averaging a paltry 18 points per contest. They are converting third downs at a 34 percent clip. Tennessee's leading receiver, Lucas Taylor, has 22 catches for 273 (12.4 yards per catch) and one touchdown. In fact, Tennessee's entire team has caught just five touchdowns this season while Shelley has six. He also has one more punt return for a score than UT's entire team.

Shelley doesn't blame Tennessee's coaching staff for not giving him an opportunity, but rather chalks it up to a couple of nagging injuries as well as the numbers game pushing him down the depth chart.

Tulsa has a history of producing outstanding receivers including Howard Twilley, Steve Largent and Drew Pearson among others. The Golden Hurricane defeated Central Florida last Sunday 49-19 and venture into SEC play this week against Arkansas in Fayetteville.

Slick Shelley will get a chance to show Razorbacks fans he didn't disappear at all, he just found a place to prove and improve himself.

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