Student-athlete is real deal for football Vols

Marvin Westwestwords

While you worry about Aubrey Solomon eligibility and whether Trey Smith will be blessed with good health, I have a different concern.


It appears I ignited a few fireworks. A couple of weeks ago, I made a smart remark about Jeremy Pruitt bragging on academic numbers at his SEC media day. What I said was good grades are a great subject if you don’t have great players to say good things about.

It seems others have different opinions.

Tennessee football fans are a knowledgeable group. Even before the coaches are certain, you know the starting lineup. You remember who scored every touchdown, who won all-SEC honors when and who soared higher and topped out in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Apparently, you also read and recall the fine print about going to school.

My first apology is to large Vol Ryan Johnson. He is an outstanding student from Brentwood Academy, an offensive lineman, 16 consecutive starts, flexible as to position, based on need. He is approaching his redshirt junior season with one degree in hand and in pursuit of a master’s in structural engineering.

Despite the disappointments of last season, he maintained his place on the SEC honor roll. He won the Tennessee football Commitment to Academic Excellence award. He represented UT on the SEC Student-Athlete Leadership Council and Advisory Committee. He is a member of the current VOLeaders Academy class.

The VOLeaders Academy is a big deal. So says Dr. Joe Scogin, senior associate athletic director, assistant provost and director of the Thornton Center, a pillar in the “school” part of the university.

This first-of-its-kind (also called unique) development program combines academics, athletics and student life. The idea is to use passion for sports and influence to cause positive change that transcends athletic success. Each class takes a 10-day trip to a foreign country to learn and teach.

There’s another UT group, the Arthur Ashe sports scholars. There are 14. One from football jumped out: Matthew Butler, Raleigh, N.C., 6-4, 285, defensive tackle.

He didn’t do all that much in his sophomore season but he had a good spring. Assistant coach Tracy Rocker said, “He was the defensive lineman that probably excited me the most.”

Matthew is another genuine student-athlete. More is expected on the field this fall. He can’t do much better as a student. He is majoring in political science. He made the 2018 SEC academic honor roll. Before that, he won freshman academic honors. That says his grade-point average is above 3.0.

Butler was in the just-concluded VOLeaders Academy class. He, receiver Josh Palmer and defensive back Cheyenne Labruzza were in Rwanda this summer on the service trip.

Did you know that Jarrett Guarantano will earn his degree with two years of eligibility remaining? What he, Ryan, Matthew and others haveaccomplished is worthy of celebration.

Football and education are not a brand-new mix. Think about the credibility of Josh Dobbs as a student-athlete. He was a Torchbearer.

Not long ago Peyton Manning was inducted into the Academic All-America Hall of Fame. By his junior year at Tennessee, he had earned enough credits to graduate – with Phi Beta Kappa honors.

Peyton arrived at UT with the firm belief that academics matter. He still believes. Each year, he returns to personally present Manning Scholarships to several first-year students.

Two-time all-American center Bob Johnson, another College Hall of Fame honoree, is on the all-time academic all-America team.

This is Bob Johnson’s record: while at Bradley County high school, team captain, honor student, Eagle Scout; college related, captain, top scholar on the team (industrial engineering); president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; unanimous All-American, National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete, winner of the Jacobs Trophy as the best blocker in the Southeastern Conference; center on the Southeastern Conference Quarter Century Team; pro football, first draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals, team captain 11 years, first to have his number retired.

After football, Bob became president of Imperial Adhesives Corporation.

Random recollections about other Tennessee academic all-Americans:

Charles Rader, 1956 tackle, majored in chemistry, foreign to football. Bill Johnson, 1957 guard, studied business administration and became a banker. Mack Gentry, 1965 tackle, majored in business and became a tax attorney.

Tim Priest, 1970 defensive back, was an outstanding student who became an attorney (and football analyst on the Vol Network). Tim Irwin, 1980 tackle, studied pre-law and became an attorney and a judge after his NFL career. Mike Terry, 1982 defensive end, earned A+ for his four years in business administration.

Eric Still, 1989 offensive guard, studied transportation and did some moving around. He played two seasons with the Frankfurt Galaxy of the World League of American Football.

Jeff Hall, 1996 kicker, had a 3.51 average in marketing and speech. David Leaverton, 2000 punter, scored 3.53 in marketing. Will Bartholmew, 2001 fullback, had the exact same average in finance. Will Overstreet, 2001 defensive end, was almost as good, 3.46.

Michael Munoz, 2002 offensive tackle, excelled in political science and got elected trustee of Hamilton Township in Warren County, Ohio. He is now vice president of youth football and character development at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Good football players are often good students: Rob Smith, 2005 offensive guard; Erik Ainge, 2006 quarterback; James Wilhoit, 2006 kicker; Daniel Lincoln, 2007 kicker; Austin Rogers, 2007 receiver.

What a story was Cody Sullins, 2009 center, 4.00 GPA in communications.

Parker Henry, Todd Kelly Jr., and Dylan Wiseman were the most recent academic all-Americans.

How long has it been since you’ve heard that Tennessee football players are “dumb jocks”?

You won’t hear it from me. Never, never, never.

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

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