KNOXVILLE, TN – SEPTEMBER 7: A Tennessee Volunteer holds up his helmet in the team huddle before the NCAA football game against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders at Neyland Stadium on September 7, 2002 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee won 26-3. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

When you talk about one of the greatest college football programs and traditions of all time, the Tennessee Volunteers don’t get mentioned nearly enough.

Tennessee has produced some of the greatest players in college football history. While the program may be best known as being where Peyton Manning played and the 1998 national championship, the school has produced several All-Americans, multiple College Football Hall of Famers, several Pro Football Hall of Famers, and of course, national champions.

Here is our list of the greatest players who have ever played for the Big Orange.

10. Alvin Kamara, running back

Like Tee Martin, Alvin Kamara had a brief stint at Alabama before ending up in Knoxville where he became a star. Kamara was in the same backfield at Alabama as eventual Heisman winner Derrick Henry as well as TJ Yeldon and Kenyan Drake. At Tennessee, however, he thrived. He rushed for nearly 700 yards in 2015 with seven rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns. The following year, he rushed for fewer yards but had more rushing touchdowns (9) as well as four receiving touchdowns. Kamara would be drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2017 where he would win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and continues to thrive.

9. Bobby Dodd, quarterback, running back, punter

Bobby Dodd is better known as the head football coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, but before that, he was a great athlete for the Tennessee Volunteers. Dodd was the star quarterback, running back, and punter for the Vols under legendary head coach Robert Neyland. He made the All-Southern team as a junior or senior and was part of the Tennessee teams that won 33 straight games before losing to rival Alabama in 1930. He was so good that UT fans would say “In Dodd we trust.”

In 1959, Dodd was named to the University of Tennessee’s Hall of Fame and to the College Football Hall of Fame. He’s best remembered as the Georgia Tech head coach from 1945 to 1966, where he compiled a record of 165–64–8.

8. Stanley Morgan, wide receiver

Stanley Morgan is remembered as a great wideout for the Vols, but he was also a pretty good kick returner and running back for the team back in the 1970s. Morgan appeared in all 46 Volunteers games in his four-year career there, compiling 1,952 rushing yards, 1,075 receiving yards, 763 kick return yards, 852 punt return yards, and 39 total touchdowns. His 4,642 all-purpose yards remains a school record. He would go on to have a stellar NFL career with the New England Patriots that included four Pro Bowls and a spot in the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. Morgan was inducted into the University of Tennessee Hall of Fame in 2000.

Speedy Tennessee All-American Willie Gault.
Speedy Tennessee All-American Willie Gault. Syndication: The Tennessean

7. Willie Gault, wide receiver

After Stanley Morgan in the 1970s, Willie Gault continued the tradition of multi-position UT stars in the 1980s. Gault was not only a great receiver but a great kick returner as well, earning All-American status in 1982. During that year got caught 50 passes for 668 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 23 kickoff returns for 549 yards that season. In four seasons at Tennessee, Gault hauled in 89 passes for 1,482 yards and 10 touchdowns, returned 78 kickoffs for 1,854 yards and four touchdowns,  and brought back 78 punts for 659 yards and a score. Gault also ran track in college and broke several SEC track records. He went on to have a solid NFL career and won a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. 

6. Jason Witten, tight end

A little-known fact about Jason Whitten is that he played both linebacker and tight end in high school. In fact, he originally came to Tennessee under the assumption he would play defensive end. However, injuries forced the team to move him to tight end and he would eventually become a star in that spot. After two seasons where he was effectively learning how to play the position full-time, he had a breakout season as a junior in 2022. Witten set school records for a tight end in receptions (39) and receiving yards (493) with five touchdowns, including one of the most memorable receptions in school history, a game-winning score in the sixth overtime against Arkansas. Named First-team All-SEC, he went pro the following year. Despite only playing in 20 games as a tight end at UT, Witten left third all-time with 68 career receptions and fourth all-time with 797 receiving yards. He went on to have a likely Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys, finishing his NFL career with 13,046 receiving yards and 74 touchdowns.

Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Tee Martin (17) carries the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Tee Martin (17) carries the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Network

5. Tee Martin, quarterback

Tee Martin may not have put up Peyton Manning-like numbers while he followed the legendary quarterback, but he did something Manning didn’t: Lead the Vols to the national championship. Martin led Tennessee to the national title in 1998, their first since 1951 and still the school’s most recent title. Martin threw for 2,164 yards and 19 touchdowns that season while also breaking the NCAA record for consecutive completions. As a senior, Martin threw for 2,317 yards and 12 touchdowns, leading the Vols to a 9-3 record and a Fiesta Bowl berth. Perhaps the single most important sign of Martin’s brief time with Tennessee is that when he was a starter, he was undefeated against Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and Kentucky. He’s now an NFL coach who previously did a stint with Tennessee.

4. Eric Berry, defensive back

Eric Berry is a two-time first-team All-SEC player and two-time unanimous All-American, not to mention a Jim Thrope Award winner and SEC Defensive Player of the Year, just to name a few. In 2008, Berry tied for the national lead in interceptions with seven, returning them for 265 yards and two touchdowns, which broke the record he set the year prior. He finished the 2009 season with 87 total tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defensed, and one fumble recovery. Drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round, Berry would put together a nine-year NFL career that included five Pro Bowls, three first-team All-Pro nods, and an NFL Comeback Player of the Year recognition. In 2023, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

3. Johnny Majors, running back

Before Johnny Majors became a legendary Tennessee head coach, he was a terrific running back for them. Majors was a two-time SEC Player of the Year (at the time called SEC MVP) and an All-American in 1956, finishing second behind Paul Hornung in the Heisman race despite gaining more yards than the Notre Dame player and leading the Vols to a 10-1 record. When his pro career didn’t pan out, Majors turned to coaching and eventually returned as head coach in 1977. He went 116–82–8 in 16 seasons at the helm, winning three SEC championships and being named SEC Coach of the Year in 1985. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1987.

Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors, posing with Reggie White (92)
Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors, posing with Reggie White (92). Syndication: The Tennessean

2. Reggie White, linebacker

Before he became the NFL’s “Minister of Defense,” Reggie White terrorized the SEC. In 1983, White garnered 100 tackles, a school record 15 sacks, nine tackles-for-loss, and an interception en route to being named SEC Player of the Year, first-team All-SEC, and a unanimous All-American. Overall in his Tennessee career, the defender earned 293 tackles (201 solo), 32 sacks, 19 tackles-for-loss, and four fumble recoveries. White would continue his reign in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers. It’s little surprise that he’s a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.

Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning scores the winning touchdown in a 17-10 victory over Vanderbilt during his final game at Neyland Stadium.
Syndication: Knoxville

1. Peyton Manning, quarterback

While Reggie White certainly has a claim to this spot, we’re giving it to Peyton Manning because he basically revitalized Tennessee football in the 1990s, setting them on the path to a national title and SEC success. The moment he announced he’d be attending UT, it changed the entire direction of the program.

One of the most decorated players in college football to never win a Heisman Trophy, Manning left as Tennessee’s all-time leading passer with 11,201 yards and 89 touchdowns. He won 39 of 45 starts in four seasons and broke the SEC record for career wins. A starter in his freshman season, he would put up monster numbers in each of his final three seasons at the school. His senior season, Manning would be a unanimous All-American and SEC Player of the Year thanks to 3,819 passing yards and 39 total touchdowns. The Vols won the SEC Championship that season and played with a national title on the line but lost to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

The No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, Manning would go on to rewrite the NFL record books. He led the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos to two Super Bowls each, winning one with each team. The five-time NFL MVP was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2017 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021

About Stacey Mickles

Stacey is a 1995 graduate of the University of Alabama who has previously worked for other publications such as Sportskeeda and Saturday Down South.