The seniors that will depart the Tennessee football program at the end of the 2013 season have endured one of the most tumultuous college football careers out of any senior class in the nation.
Here’s a look back at the careers of some of this year’s notable senior class members at the University of Tennessee.
Michael Palardy: Palardy came out of high school ranked as the No. 1 kicker in his class by scout.com. Originally a commitment for Lane Kiffin’s second class at the University of Tennessee, Palardy remained a Tennessee commit when he departed for USC and played for incoming head coach Derek Dooley.
He started six games in his freshman season. His sophomore and junior seasons were not his best. His junior season saw him being the backup kicker three times to one of the walk-on kickers from a university fraternity.
Palardy has come on strong his senior season, though. His most notable moment of the season was a game-winning field goal against South Carolina, the first of his career, to give the Vols their first win over a ranked opponent since 2009.
Not only has Palardy been an effective place-kicker for the Vols, connecting on 13-of-15 tries and making all 30 PATs, but is one of the nation’s best punters this season. He leads the nation in punts fielded inside the 20-yard-line, and is the only left-footed specialist handling all three duties of place-kicking, punting, and kickoff. Also, for his tremendous punting efforts in 2013, Palardy has been named a finalist for the Ray Guy award which is awarded to the nation’s top punter each season.
Byron Moore: Moore has never played for the same defensive coordinator in consecutive years. Originally a USC Trojan, he ironically transferred from the school upon the arrival of Lane Kiffin. He spent a year in junior college before coming to the University of Tennessee. As a sophomore he played for Justin Wilcox, who left for Washington. As a junior Moore played defensive back for Sal Sunseri who was fired along with the rest of the staff under Derek Dooley. Now Moore answers to John Jancek.
He only saw the field twice his sophomore season, but started all 12 games his junior season and made the most of it, finishing the season with 86 tackles, which ranked second on the team, and five interceptions, most notably a pick-six in the first quarter against Georgia. He was also the first Vol to have two interceptions in a single game (Sept. 22 vs. Akron) since Eric Berry did in 2007.
Brent Brewer: Brewer began his career at Tennessee as a defensive back. He started the final six games of his freshman season, and the first eight games of his sophomore season before he was sidelined with a torn ACL. Upon his return in 2012 he only started twice, but saw the field in all twelve of the Vols’ games. Now under new defensive coordinator John Jancek, Brewer has been moved to linebacker where he has produced 21 tackles, and his only two career interceptions. He’s participated in all 10 games, but has only started in four of them this season.
Raijon Neal: Neal has been Mr. Everything for the Vols throughout his career. He came to Tennessee ranked as the No. 9 running back in his class by rivals.com, but has seen action all over the place.
His freshman season, Neal was the backup to Tauren Poole, and saw action in 10 games. His sophomore season he was moved out to wide receiver while he still backed up Poole in the backfield, and also played wildcat quarterback for the Vols. He finished the season with 403 total yards and three touchdowns.
His junior season he was finally placed at tailback, and played tailback alone. He still came out of the backfield to catch a few passes, but his main priority was pounding the rock down the field on the ground. Neal finished his junior season with 708 rushing yards and five touchdowns, as well as 149 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Starting all 10 games in his senior season, Neal has already surpassed his 2012 rushing total, and finds himself only 105 yards shy of the 1,000 yard mark with two regular season games, and possibly a bowl game, remaining. He has posted four 100-yard rushing attempts this season alone and 10 touchdowns to go with it, including three touchdowns vs. Western Kentucky earlier this season.
Jacques Smith: From the beginning of his freshman season to the end of his junior season, Smith saw action in every game of his collegiate career at Tennessee. After suffering a broken right thumb just weeks before the beginning of the 2013 season, Smith was sidelined the first two games of the season. Since then, he’s started in seven of the eight games he’s participated in, and has amassed 18 tackles and, most recently, and 18-yard pick-six against Auburn which gave him his first career interception and touchdown as a Vol.
Marlon Walls: As a freshman, Walls made appearances in seven games, but was only used sparingly. As a sophomore he was forced to redshirt due to an Achilles injury. In his return in 2011 Walls started in four of the 12 games he played in.
As a redshirt junior in 2012 he started only one game while he still saw playing time in all 12. As a senior he’s played in nine of the 10 games to this point, and although he has yet to make a start he still leads the team in sacks and tackles for a loss. Walls has had a very up and down career as a Tennessee Volunteer.
James Stone: Stone was ranked as the seventh best offensive guard in the nation coming out of high school by rivals.com. He saw action immediately at Tennessee as he played in 12 games, and started eight of them.
Stone has been moved around a lot on the offensive line early in his career at Tennessee. His freshman and sophomore seasons combined he started 16 games at center, and five games at left guard.
Starting his junior season Stone started at center exclusively, and through ten games of his senior season has now started 22 games consecutively. Stone has represented an offensively line that, in 2011 and 2012, helped the offense to seven 500-yard games, and averaged over 475 yards per game a year ago.
Ja’Wuan James: James was thrown to the wolves right away once he arrived on campus. He has started every single game in his career at Tennessee (47 games and counting), and all have been at the right tackle position. As a freshman in 2010 he was part of the only offensive line to start three freshmen at the same time in a single game. He was just one of four players to play in every single quarter of the 2010 season, and all as a freshman.
Zach Fulton: Fulton is in his third consecutive season as a full-time starter at the right guard position. Dating back to his freshman season he has started in 38 of his last 41 games, and has seen the field in all but one game (vs. Mississippi in 2010) throughout his career as a Vol. In week three of his junior season he earned SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors, and was the first Vol to do so since 2009.
Alex Bullard: Out of all the members on Tennessee’s offensive line, Bullard has the least amount of experience. He began his career in 2009 at Notre Dame where he redshirted his freshman season. In 2010 he only saw action in three games for the Irish before transferring to Tennessee. As a redshirt sophomore Bullard started all 12 games in his first season at Tennessee. In 2012 he only started in two games, but still saw action in every single game as a redshirt junior. Now as a redshirt senior he’s started nine of the 10 games this season at left guard, but it’s noted that he’s a versatile offensive lineman who could play at any position like he did in 2011 when he played six games at left guard, and six games at center.
Corey Miller: Miller has seen action in every game as a Vol. Before his senior season he had only started four times, but as a senior in 2013 he’s started in all 10 contests up to this point. This season he’s amassed 27 tackles along with two sacks, and 2.5 tackles for a loss. His best performance came in Tennessee’s upset victory over South Carolina where he had five tackles against his home state’s team.
Daniel Hood: Hood is a hometown kid from Knoxville Catholic High School. He redshirted as a freshman in 2009, and saw action in only six games as an offensive lineman in 2010. In 2011, Hood switched to the defensive line where he started in eight of the 11 games he participated in. A year later in 2012 Hood still played in all 12 games, but didn’t start in any as he was a backup to Daniel McCullers.
Now in 2013 as a redshirt senior he has started in all 10 games and has accumulated 18 tackles and an interception, including a career-high four tackle performance in Tennessee’s upset victory over South Carolina.
Daniel McCullers: The six-foot-six, 377-pound nose guard out of Raleigh, N.C. began his collegiate career at Georgia Military College. After two seasons, McCullers transferred to Tennessee and saw action immediately. Although he only started in seven games, he saw action in all 12 games and amassed 39 tackles to lead all linemen as a junior transfer. In 2013 as a senior McCullers has started in all 10 games and has 26 total tackles, 2.5 of those being for a loss.
Seniors not mentioned above that will also play their final game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. vs. Vanderbilt are J.R. Carr, Greg King, Dontavis Sapp, Raiques Crump, Reggie Juin, and Tyler Drummer.
These seniors have endured possibly one of the toughest roads as collegiate athletes, some playing for three different coaches just to get here. While the challenges they’ve faced at the University of Tennessee have been tough, it’s fair to say they will be well prepared for whatever future may lie ahead of them beyond college football.