Tennessee famous fathers and sons

Marvin Westwestwords

Navy Shuler’s transfer to Tennessee is a nice, warm story, family-friendly plus.


He might even have a football future. Navy was not a stiff as a three-star quarterback at Christ School in Aden, North Carolina – 67.3 completion percentage, 6,541 yards, 71 touchdowns, 19 interceptions. He was not much of a runner.

He had a dozen or so scholarship offers. I thought Duke and Wake Forest were best choices. He signed with Appalachian State back when Eliah Drinkwitz (now at Missouri) was coach.

This choice is clearly happiness. He projects as non-scholarship depth at Tennessee. Of course, he may contribute. Daryl Dickey once saved a season and finished as Sugar Bowl MVP.

Navy expands the short but interesting list of famous Vol fathers and sons. Heath Shuler is a legend. He is high among all-time great quarterbacks. You can decide where he fits after Peyton, ahead of or behind Tee Martin, Tony Robinson, Condredge Holloway and Josh Dobbs.

Don’t skip lightly over the Swamp Rat, Dewey Warren. And never forget Andy Kelly or Bobby Scott. Casey Clausen went 14-1 on the road.

Heath Shuler stories? I have a few.

Shuler killed a football on his first day of Tennessee practice. He hit a would-be receiver on the helmet and broke the ball. It split at a seam. Air leaked out. True story. Chip Robertson remembers it well. It was his hat that got hit.

Shuler admitted he was trying to fire the football but he wasn’t sure he threw it THAT hard. Maybe the ball was defective.

Heath had a great game in the 1992 upset of Georgia in Athens. Best part was a late timeout and a sideline strategy session with interim coach Phillip Fulmer. The Vols were four points behind and it was fourth down and 14 to go.

The coach recognized the crisis. The sophomore quarterback remained unreasonably confident. He patted Fulmer’s broad bottom (with national TV sharply focused) and said he’d take care of fourth-and-14.

Fulmer to assistant David Cutcliffe: “Did you see what that kid just did?”

Out on the field, the kid completed a 22-yard pass. He scored the winning touchdown in the final minute.

Shuler made 62 public appearances as Tennessee’s “good guy” quarterback between sophomore and junior seasons. He spoke to school groups, youth groups, at churches, hospitals, even at a prison. He tried to match his remarks to the audience. He’d talk to teens about Godly living and goal-setting. Youngsters heard about respect for parents, law and order. Grown-ups got a responsibility check, a challenge to be good parents, good role models for the younger generation.

He’d talk a little football and maybe mention that he never tasted alcohol, never smoked. Almost always he’d tell about his end-of-the-day prayer, how he’d thank God for placing him in a wonderful family.

Why give so much time and effort? Shuler said football wouldn’t last forever, that he needed to make whatever impact he could in whatever time he had.

Shuler went on to two large professional contracts and injuries. Critics called him an NFL bust. He served two terms in Congress. He is a businessman.

Tennessee is not overstocked with famous fathers and famous sons. Steve DeLong was an all-American middle guard and Outland Trophy recipient in 1964. He is in the College Football Hall of Fame. Son Keith was an all-American linebacker in 1988. He earned a Super Bowl ring in his rookie pro season.

James Berry was a starting running back at Tennessee and a captain on the 1981 team. Son Eric became an all-American in 2008-09. He set records for interceptions and return yardage. He won the Jim Thorpe Award. He made a splash in the NFL.

Another Berry boy, Evan, became an all-American in 2015. He led the nation in kickoff return average. He tied Willie Gault’s record with three KO touchdowns.

Al Rotella was a tough Tennessee tackle in the 1940s. Son Jamie was an all-American linebacker and captain in 1972. He had 413 career tackles.

Dale Carter was a two-time All-American defensive back and an explosive kick return man. His son Nigel Warrior was good but not that good.

Cade and Cooper Mays are sons of Kevin Mays, all-SEC guard in 1994. Cade is going pro. Cooper has a bright future.

The famous fourth-down family, the punting Colquitts, started with Craig, all-SEC in 1976-77. Son Dustin led the league with 45.9 and won all-America honors in 2003. Son Britton wasn’t too shabby. He was all-SEC in 2006. His average was 44.9.

Fuad Reveiz still holds the school record for the longest field goal, 60 yards. His sons, Nick and Shane, played linebacker for the Vols. Nick was one tough hombre, a team captain in 09-10.

Other father-and-sons of note include Todd Kelly Sr. and Todd Jr.; Reggie McKenzie and Kahlil; and, longer ago, Ralph and Steve Chancey; Norbert and Bert Ackermann; and Sam and Will Bartholomew. Do you remember Carl Johnson and sons Greg and Neil?

Saddest combo story: Great tackle Jack Stroud’s son Jack came to the Vols from Bearden, played freshman football but died that December 1970 following shoulder surgery for a high school injury. There is or was a memorial scholarship.

Former coach and athletic director Doug Dickey and son Daryl are an interesting pair. Daryl was a reserve quarterback almost forever – until Tony Robinson was injured. Daryl was called from the bench to rescue the 1985 season.

Doug’s record as Tennessee coach was 46-15-4.

Some sons of Tennessee football fathers went elsewhere and not always by choice. Tyson Clabo, son of ex-Vol Phil, wasn’t wanted at Tennessee. He is in Wake Forest’s hall of fame and had Pro Bowl credentials as an NFL lineman.

Garrett Reynolds, son of Vol linebacker Art Reynolds, was a Tennessee reject at Carter High. He was all-ACC at North Carolina and a seven-year pro.

Jalen McCleskey, son of famous Vol walk-on to captain to NFL heroics J.J. McCleskey, just wasn’t big enough to play at Tennessee. He was 5-10 and 170. If you are into stats, Jalen was big enough to lead Oklahoma State receivers with 73 receptions as a sophomore.

I remain uncomfortable with the fact that Tennessee did not recruit Richmond Flowers’ boys. Richmond III had strong numbers as a Duke receiver and played and coached in the NFL.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com.

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