The most successful period of the modern era of Tennessee Football saw the Vols’ defense run by a linebackers coach, John Chavis. Since the 1960s, the Vols have churned out elite linebackers on a level similar to wide receivers. Here are the greatest seasons by linebackers in UT history.
10. Andy Spiva – 1976
Tackles were recorded differently in the 1970s, so this is somewhat of a default pick, but you can’t ignore Andy Spiva setting the school record for tackles in a season with 194 in 1976. That’s enough to earn him a spot on here.
9. Jerod Mayo – 2007
Moving to middle linebacker to replace Marvin Mitchell in 2007, Jerod Mayo thrived, helping Tennessee Football win the SEC East and playing his way until a first-round draft pick. Mayo had eight and a half tackles for a loss, a pick-six, one and a half sacks and 140 tackles, 80 of which were solo.
8. Jack Reynolds – 1969
Linebacker play was at the heart of the Vols’ 1969 SEC Championship run. Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds was a converted fullback but became an elite defender for UT, able to even play up on the line at times. He earned All-American recognition for his play this year, which puts him on the list.
7. Jamie Rotella – 1972
Condredge Holloway’s first year on Rocky Top as the Vols’ starting quarterback overshadowed what was a really good defense en route to a 10-2 campaign. Jamie Rotella was the heart of that defense. An All-American in 1972, Rotella totaled 190 tackles this year.
6. Keith DeLong – 1988
Despite the Vols suffering through a losing season in 1988, Keith DeLong was a bright spot. Living up to the legacy of his father, UT’s 1964 Outland Trophy winner in Steve DeLong, Keith DeLong had an All-American campaign, registering 159 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss.
5. Raynoch Thompson – 1998
His All-American season was 1999, but Raynoch Thompson actually had a better year in 1998, and not just because the Vols won the national title. Thompson finished with 89 tackles despite playing outside linebacker and had an incredible 10 tackles for a loss.
4. Kevin Burnett – 2004
An injury to Kevin Simon in early September left Kevin Burnett to lead a younger unit at linebacker. All he did was earn All-American honors en route to helping the Vols win the SEC East. Burnett had 120 tackles on the year and six tackles for a loss.
3. Jackie Walker – 1970
The first Black captain in the SEC, Jackie Walker was a two-time All-American in 1970 and 1971, but his best year was 1970. Walker had 132 sacks, nine tackles for a loss, two sacks and three forced fumbles en route to leading the Vols to an 11-1 season.
2. Steve Kiner – 1969
He’s infamous for taunting the Ole Miss Rebels and Archie Manning, who handed UT its only regular season loss in 1969, but Steve Kiner was still the best player on that team. Starting with “Hacksaw” Reynolds made for one of the best linebacker units in school history. Kiner had five picks and was SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
1. Al Wilson – 1998
Another player who moved to middle linebacker in the offseason, Al Wilson was hurt part of the time of 1998. However, he was the heart and soul of the Tennessee Football national championship run, forcing three fumbles against the Florida Gators. Wilson had four sacks and six tackles for a loss, becoming one of the most transformative figures in school history.