Best of the decade: RBs

This is the second in a series of articles rating Tennessee's best players of the decade 2000-2009. Today's topic: Running backs.

1. TRAVIS HENRY: The guy known as "Cheese" (because he was hard, like a block of government cheese) has become an embarrassment off the field but he was a heck of a running back when he was on it. At 5-9 and 225 pounds, he could run through arm tackles and run over defensive backs with alarming ease. He insisted on playing as a freshman and wasted the year by carrying just twice for 4 yards. He ran for 970 yards as a sophomore, 790 as a junior and 1,314 as a senior in 2000, however, and still ranks as Tennessee's career rushing leader with 3,078 yards. Had he not spent two-plus seasons backing up Jamal Lewis, Henry probably would have rushed for 4,000 yards. If you can separate what he did on the field in college from what he has done off the field since - some fans understandably cannot - Henry deserves to be No. 1 on the list.

2. ARIAN FOSTER: Few players in Vol history have experienced the roller-coaster ride this guy did. Pegged as a budding star after rushing for 879 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2005, the 6-1, 220-pounder managed just 322 yards in an injury-plagued sophomore season. He bounced back to have his best year as a junior - 1,193 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 12 touchdowns - but got just 131 carries and 570 yards as a senior in the melt-down that was 2008. Foster, who ranks second to Henry with 2,964 career rushing yards, also excelled as a receiver, catching 83 career passes for another 742 yards. Fairly or not, however, he will be remembered by some fans for costly fumbles in losses to South Carolina (2005), Penn State (2007) and UCLA (2008).

3. MONTARIO HARDESTY: He might have been the best of the decade if he could've stayed healthy ... but he couldn't. Hampered by an assortment of injuries, the 6-0, 220-pounder averaged just 3.8 yards per carry en route to 1,046 yards his first four years on campus. Finally healthy, he averaged 4.8 per carry and exploded for 1,345 yards as a fifth-year senior. His final college season was so impressive that he was taken in Round 2 of the 2010 NFL Draft.

4. TRAVIS STEPHENS: If you could justify tabbing a guy "best of the decade" off one year, Stephens would be the pick. Like Hardesty, he accomplished very little until he was a fifth-year senior, then he erupted. Stuck behind Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry, Stephens gained a mere 872 yards during his first four years in the program. As the starting tailback in 2001, however, he rushed for 1,464 yards, establishing a single-season record that still stands. Even at 5-9 and 195 pounds, he proved he could be a workhorse - rushing 41 times for 206 yards on a rain-drenched field at Arkansas. He also shredded Florida's defense for 226 yards on 19 carries as Tennessee upset the second-ranked Gators 34-32 in Steve Spurrier's final home game at The Swamp. Stephens was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award in '01.

5. CEDRIC HOUSTON: Another big finisher, he rushed for 1,005 yards as a senior in 2004, despite splitting carries with Gerald Riggs, Jr., who rushed for 1,107 yards that season. Houston wasn't particularly fast, flashy or elusive but he had a knack for running over people with his 6-0, 225-pound frame. That's why he ranks sixth all-time at UT with 2,634 career rushing yards.


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