published Friday, November 6th, 2009

Hometown foes

Vols' Williams, Walls eager to face Memphis


by Wes Rucker
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Dan Henry Dan Williams (55), Wes Brown and the rest of the Vols trampled South Carolina last week. Williams, who is from Memphis, knows Saturday's game against Memphis will be like the Tigers' Super Bowl.
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Marlon Walls

KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee defensive tackles Dan Williams and Marlon Walls have firsthand experience of the long-held belief that there are two types of sports fans in Memphis.

People in Shelby County either love the Volunteers or hate everything orange.

"That's it," Walls said. "Love us or hate us. There ain't no third group."

Williams and Walls grew up in the first category, though Williams preferred Florida State until the Vols defeated the Seminoles in the 1998 national championship game.

"I hopped on the bandwagon, and ever since then I've been a Tennessee fan," Williams said.

The UT license plate on his truck has made him a target every time he travels home.

Williams couldn't stop laughing when recalling an older Memphis fan blocking his truck at a traffic light soon after he signed with the Vols.

"This lady would not move. She really stopped," Williams said. "It turned green, and she waited until the last second to go. As soon as it got yellow, she pulled off and I got stuck at the red light."

Williams caught up to the woman when both got stopped at the next traffic light, though, and he pulled alongside to ask her what happened.

"She was like, 'You just made the dumbest decision of your life! Blah blah blah!'" Williams said. "I just thought it was funny. There's always people out there that do things like that.

"Sometimes it's a little adventure to go home with your Tennessee stuff on. If I go back home and have a UT outfit on and go the mall or Wal-Mart, people are like, 'What are you doing with all of that on? You need to take that off when you come home. You leave that in Knoxville.'"

Most Vols from Memphis have friends or former teammates who play for the Tigers. Williams' best friend since middle school is Memphis guard Malcolm Rawls, who transferred back home after a short stay in Knoxville.

Williams said he and Rawls are "more like brothers" than best friends, and he considered transferring with Rawls after their first season at UT. The two talk daily and visit each other frequently, and Williams said funny scenarios are the norm when the two hang out in Memphis.

"It's always something, especially when I'm out with Malcolm," Williams said. "People will always be like, 'Malcolm, you can't bring this man around here.' But it's all fun and games.

"Sometimes it's not all fun and games, though."

Walls didn't have traffic stories on par with Williams', but he's also heard grumbles. And they don't just come from Memphis fans. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Alabama and other schools have large fan bases in the city, making it one of the South's most interesting recruiting hot spots.

Kiffin and UT recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron, formerly Ole Miss's head coach, have both tried patching problematic scenarios for the Vols in Memphis. For that reason, and others, Kiffin said he'd "love to play (Memphis) every year."

"Memphis is obviously very critical to us, and I think it's a great matchup that's had great games over the years," Kiffin said. "I went through the games, and the last 10 times they've played, there's a lot of really competitive games in there. I'd love to keep it going.

"It is a city that there's closer schools to, but I think we made some headway in there. We pounded away. I think it helps to see guys, our Memphis guys, play so well for us right now. Our Memphis guys are playing great. The last one's been Marlon Walls. For him to step up and play a bunch in that game is always good for us."

Walls was initially considered out at least two weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain late in Saturday's win over South Carolina, but he stayed several extra hours in the training room and has been cleared to tussle his hometown Tigers.

"The biggest thing is it's just another game for our team, but I couldn't miss this one," Walls said. "It's always special to play against your hometown team. I've got a bunch of homeboys on the other side, and it started way back in the summer, us talking a bunch of trash to each other."

Walls initially committed to Orgeron and Ole Miss after transferring to Olive Branch (Miss.) High School before his senior season, but he ultimately switched to his childhood dream school and reportedly cried when visiting Neyland Stadium. His circuitous route finished in Knoxville after two years of academic hurdles and prep school, and Orgeron welcomed with open arms the player he called one of the best Tennessee high school prospects he'd seen.

"A lot of people came up to me all the time and told me they wanted me to go to Memphis, but that just wasn't it for me," Walls said. "I've got respect for their program, but at the same time, I'm a Tennessee fan and always have been. I grew up watching Tennessee football, and getting to come here was a blessing, so that kind of ruled out Memphis real quick."

"Memphis is a pretty good school, and I respect them. But at the same time, I love Tennessee. Ever since I've been able to watch football, that's who I've watched, Tennessee. I love it, man."

But many love to hate the Vols, too, making the UT-Memphis game an interesting debate in the Western side of the state.

"We know they're going to give us their best shot," Walls said. "Memphis always gives Tennessee their best shot, so we just have to match that with our best shot and see what happens."

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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