Before revealing the No. 1 player on our list, these are guys who just missed it.
Tennessee football’s all-time leading rusher before Travis Henry, James Stewart was part of a great run for the Vols from 1991 to 1994. He helped them to historic wins over the Georgia Bulldogs three times, the Florida Gators in 1992 and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 1991.
Aaron Hayden played the same time as James Stewart and was actually the more featured back their first two years together. He scored the game-winning touchdown in the Miracle at South Bend in 1991. And he was a consistent presence for teams that had elite offenses, most notably the 1993 team with Heath Shuler.
Jay Graham was the guy who followed Aaron Hayden and James Stewart in 1995, and all he did was set the single-season rushing record while leading Tennessee football to an 11-1 record, a Top 3 finish and its first win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in 10 years at the time. Travis Stephens broke his record in similar fashion six years later, having to follow Travis Henry and Jamal Lewis. So Graham is part of elite underdog company.
A future NFL star, Bill Bates was also part of those late 1970s and early 1980s Tennessee football teams who significantly underachieved under Johnny Majors given their talent. He was an all-around player at safety, racking up tackles and interceptions. The guy won a lot more in the NFL, but his college efforts can’t be ignored.
Tennessee football’s all-time leading receiver in yards and touchdowns, Joey Kent blows everybody else out of the water in those stats. He has a case to be on this list as a result. However, Kent’s NFL career shows that his stats were largely a product of him being Peyton Manning’s favorite target, and Marcus Nash even outperformed him in 1997 after Kent went to the NFL. So it was more about Manning than Kent.