Running Back, 1991
Johnny Majors had to turn to true freshmen for the first time at running with Tony Thompson graduating and Chuck Webb not coming back, so he turned to Aaron Hayden in 1991. Hayden had 145 carries for 704 yards and seven touchdowns and added 10 receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown. He also had the final two touchdowns in the 35-34 comeback win at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Miracle at South Bend.
Running Back, 1991
Yes, there were two running backs on this team who made a splash as true freshmen. James “Little Man” Stewart actually racked up the better stats even if Hayden had more key touchdowns. Stewart finished the year with 190 carries for 939 yards and eight touchdowns, and he added 18 receptions for 106 yards. This was just the start of what would become an all-time great Tennessee football career for him.
Defensive Back, 1992
A year after Aaron Hayden and James Stewart made a splash, Jason Parker actually made a splash as a true freshman defensive back. Playing primarily at safety, Parker helped the Vols become the surprise team early under Phillip Fulmer before they collapsed in Johnny Majors’s return. He had four interceptions on the year, a remarkable number for a freshman even playing safety. It’s why he makes the list.
Tyler Bray actually broke Erik Ainge’s true freshman passing yards and touchdowns records in 2010, completing 55.8 percent of his passes for 1,849 yards and 18 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions. He also earned his first start after Tennessee football was 2-6 Derek Dooley’s first year and turned it around to finish 6-6 before losing the bowl game. However, he didn’t make the list because of degree of difficulty. Bray did not beat one team with a winning record in that turnaround stretch, so it just wasn’t an impressive run.
Offensive Lineman, 2010
The Vols were loaded with freshman talent on offense in 2010, and it appeared to signal a bright future. In addition to Bray, Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers were emerging as go-to receivers, and Mychal Rivera was looking like a star tight end. All were freshmen, along with offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James. But James Stone, the other lineman who played center, was the best of all of them. He earned Freshman All-America honors and helped bring along Bray. Jim Chaney prepared him really well, and it was enough to earn a spot on this list.