Not long ago, track Volunteers from the Chuck Rohe era had dinner together and celebrated dual-sport athletes from their time and place.
Richmond Flowers, Willie Gault, Chip Kell, Karl Kremser, Terry McDaniel, Sam Graddy, Jabari Greer, Anthony Hancock and others were remembered and recognized.
An aging sportswriter ventured afar and dusted off Condredge Holloway, Ron Widby and even Doug Atkins.
Pro scouts said Condredge was better in baseball than football and John Wooden said basketball would have been his best sport if he had come to UCLA.
Widby wasn’t fast enough to win foot races on the track but he could do everything else – football, basketball, baseball, golf and tennis for fun.
Can you believe that Atkins’ big body once cleared the high-jump bar at 6-6? He came to Tennessee on a basketball scholarship and had to be persuaded to do football.
The aging sportswriter said the dual athlete is a thing of the past, that college sports now require almost all the hours from those who would achieve excellence. There are no more Bo Jacksons or Deion Sanders, no more Dave Winfields or Jackie Robinsons.
Old Vols nodded and guessed that was correct.
As if an echo, Trevon Flowers, 18, is coming soon to Tennessee as a defensive back in football and a middle infielder in baseball.
He is not related to Richmond but it is ironic that he shares the famous last name and will wear football number 7 made famous by Holloway.
Trevon is probably good enough to get drafted by pro baseball. He was good enough at Tucker High in Atlanta to earn a baseball scholarship to Kentucky. He hadn’t played football since middle school but returned to the combat zone as a senior.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt, recognizing a shortage in the Tennessee secondary, was looking far and wide and all over January for defensive backs. He spotted one on Tucker video. He wanted Flowers enough to agree to share his practice and playing time with baseball coach Tony Vitello.
Kentucky granted a release.
Flowers is enthusiastic about trying both sports as a freshman. He concedes that he may eventually have to choose one. He will face that dilemma if it comes.
There was a time when it was expected that the best athletes at Tennessee would do more than play one sport.
Back in 1907-08, Nathan W. Dougherty was captain of football, basketball and track at the same time. That young man became a legend in versatility – dean of engineering and athletic administrator who hired Bob Neyland.
Dougherty was co-creator of the Southeastern Conference.
You historians may have heard of Estes Kefauver, a U.S. senator who was once a vice-presidential nominee. He was a Tennessee football player in the mid-1920s. He set the school record in the discus.
Herman Hickman was a splendid football guard, good enough to have a plaque in the College Hall of Fame. He could also put the shot. He was a student leader. He became a famous after-dinner speaker. He wrote for the early editions of Sports Illustrated. He was a professional wrestler. Without pretending to be an elite, he was football coach at Yale.
There was a time when Richmond Flowers was the best hurdler in the world. Football took him to the NFL. Kell had good numbers in the shot put and twice won the Jacobs Trophy as the best blocker in the SEC. He is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Kremser high-jumped 7-1 and led the 1968 football Vols in scoring. Gault could do it all – sprints and hurdles, football receiver, Super Bowl Shuffle, Olympic bobsled team. Look up his list of movie credits.
The old sportswriter insists those times are long gone, that Trevon Flowers is at best a temporary novelty. He also says blessings on the young man. He has the necessary courage and negotiating skills to give it a try.
Marvin West invites readers’ responses. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org