Wide Receiver U has been the title for Tennessee Football dating back to the 1980s, but hidden in that is the number of elite seasons produced by Vols running backs. That actually dates back to the years of Robert Neyland. Here are the 10 greatest single seasons ever by a UT running back.
10. Alvin Kamara – 2016
If Butch Jones wasn’t so intent on Jalen Hurd working out, which he didn’t, Alvin Kamara would be much higher on the list. However, the all-purpose back still managed 988 total yards and 13 touchdowns, barely eclipsing his 2015 effort of 989 total yards and 10 TDs. He rushed for 596 yards and averaged just under six yards a carry.
9. Beattie Feathers – 1933
A consensus All-American and SEC Player of the Year in the league’s inaugural season in 1933, Beattie Feathers would have been the Heisman winner if the trophy existed that year, per Sports Illustrated. He pushed 1,000 yards rushing, something rare at the time, and scored 13 touchdowns. Feathers’ career rushing record stood until the 1970s.
8. Jamal Lewis – 1997
Johnnie Jones in 1984, Chuck Webb in 1989 and Travis Henry in 2000 all had seasons comparable to what Jamal Lewis had in 1997. However, Lewis as a feature back got the nod because, as a freshman, in addition to his 1,364 rushing yards, he added 266 yards through the air. Having Peyton Manning helped, but he did his part in helping Tennessee Football to an SEC Championship.
7. Hank Lauricella – 1951
Robert Neyland’s single-wing system relied heavily on triple-threat backs, most notably Johnny Majors and George Cafego. However, none of them had the rushing stats of Hank Lauricella in UT’s first AP national championship season. Lauricella ran for 881 yards and eight touchdowns and by all accounts should’ve won the Heisman that year.
6. Reggie Cobb – 1987
Top 10 seasons all time in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns for Tennessee Football are automatics on this list. Reggie Cobb’s 1987 campaign is the first to make such a list. Cobb ran for 1,197 yards, but he had an incredible 17 rushing touchdowns, just one short of the school record, and he had 20 total touchdowns on the year.
5. Tony Thompson – 1990
The sad part about this is it came at the expense of Chuck Webb getting hurt, who otherwise likely would’ve had two seasons on this list, 1990 and 1991. Still, Tony Thompson waited his turn, and he stepped in as a senior after Webb’s injury to rush for 1,261 yards and an incredible 16 touchdowns en route to an SEC Championship.
4. Montario Hardesty – 2009
Stuck behind Lamarcus Coker and Arian Foster while battling numerous injuries, Montario Hardesty finally got a year to himself in 2009 with Lane Kiffin at the helm. He made the most of it, rushing for 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding 302 receiving yards, gaining over 1,600 yards from scrimmage.
3. Jay Graham – 1995
This was a new era of running backs, as the early 1990s were marked by James Steward, Mose Phillips, Aaron Hayden and Charlie Garner. All were gone in 1995, and with a sophomore Peyton Manning at quarterback, Jay Graham took over. All he did was set the single season record with 1,438 rushing yards and scoring 13 total touchdowns.
2. Travis Stephens – 2001
Like Graham, Travis Stephens got a year to himself after sitting behind star running backs, in his case Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry, and like Graham, he had a sophomore quarterback, in his case Casey Clausen. Also like Graham, Stephens set the single-season rushing record, which stands to this day, gaining 1,464 yards on the ground, 1,633 from scrimmage, and scoring 11 total touchdowns.
1. Gene McEver – 1929
Just before Beattie Feathers, Gene McEver would have been the original first Heisman Trophy winner for Tennessee Football. McEver had a school record 18 rushing touchdowns this season, one that still stands, along with a school-record five rushing touchdowns in one game. He scored 130 points for the Vols this year and became their first standout player.