Former Tennessee player and head coach Johnny Majors, center, stands with Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, left, and his wife Mary Lynn Majors after his No. 45 jersey was retired before an NCAA college football game between Florida and Tennessee, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn.Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
KNOXVILLE — Though he’d heard rumors for weeks, former Tennessee player and coach Johnny Majors didn’t get official word that the school was retiring his No. 45 jersey at Saturday’s Florida-Tennessee game until earlier in the day.
“[UT athletic director] Dave Hart gave me a call about 9:30 in the morning,” said the 77-year-old Majors, a member of college football’s Hall of Fame since 1987. “Ever since then, it’s been one of the most emotional days of my life.”
It all began in the fall of 1953, when Majors joined the Vols as a freshman out of tiny Huntland High. During practice early that season, as the freshman worked on the scout team, he turned in a practice as a scout team running back that caught the attention of Gen. Robert Neyland, the head coach.
As soon as practice ended, Majors scurried to find a pay phone, where he told his father, Shirley, who had coached him in high school: “Dad, they miss tackles in college just like they did in high school.”
By his junior year he was the SEC player of the year, an honor he repeated in 1956, the year he finished second to Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung for the Heisman Trophy.
“My No. 1 goal when I got here was just to make a C average and be excused from study hall,” Majors said. “Instead, I got great treatment as both a player and coach from the Tennessee fans, who are some of the best in the world. This is just a great, great day for me and my family.”
Tennessee broke out the wildcat formation during an easy win last week.
The Volunteers unleashed a new version of it with plenty more at stake.
Linebacker A.J. Johnson was everywhere defensively for the 23rd-ranked Vols during their 37-20 loss to 18th-ranked Florida, and the sophomore made his offensive debut. The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder ran the position at Gainesville High School in Georgia, but the Vols had given no indication they were working their best defensive player in a special role.
Johnson ran 4 yards up the middle on third-and-2 after taking a direct snap in the third quarter and finished the Vols’ scoring drive by running through a hole on the right side of the offensive line from a yard out.
The Vols’ second-leading tackler made a career-high 17 tackles.
Both Herman Lathers (shoulder) and Curt Maggitt (turf toe) started the game at linebacker for Tennessee after being limited in practice all week.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Christian Harris, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee early in spring practice, made his Tennessee debut Saturday night on special teams. Receiver Alton “Pig” Howard became the 10th true freshman to play for the Vols this season in the second quarter. Tight end Brendan Downs, who dislocated his kneecap during a preseason scrimmage, entered in the second half after surprisingly returning to practice during the week.
Tennessee defensive lineman Maurice Couch left the game in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury, but he returned the next possession. Safety Brian Randolph was hurt on Florida’s long fourth-quarter touchdown catch-and-run. The sophomore, who began the game as the Vols’ leading tackler, put no weight on his right leg as he was helped off the field and left the field on crutches.
Florida tailback Mike Gillislee, who hurt his groin in Florida’s comeback win at Texas A&M last week, did not start the game. His first carry came on the first play of the Gators’ second possession. Freshman Mike Davis, a four-star prospect, started the game and was part of a botched handoff on a reverse with receiver Andre Dubose. Gillislee, who entered the game as the SEC’s leading rusher, finished with 115 yards on 18 carries.
The Vols were on the wrong end of college football’s new helmet rule during a second-quarter drive. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James lost his helmet on a play, and new rules force a player who loses his helmet during the game to sit out the ensuing play. Redshirt freshman Kyler Kerbyson, who made his debut against Georgia State last week, was flagged for a false-start penalty after Tennessee gained 9 yards on first down.
All four official visitors — highly rated tailbacks Derrick Henry and Derrick Green and commitments safety Kameron Miles and linebacker Corey Vereen — were in attendance. Among the unofficial visitors were two four-star in-state Vols commitments: athlete Jalen Reeves-Maybin from Clarksville and offensive tackle Austin Sanders from Bradley Central. Four-star Orlando (Fla.) tailback A.J. Turman, four-star Charlotte (N.C.) receiver MarQuez North and four-star Nashville cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who’s committed to Southern Cal, were among the other unofficial visitors.
Tennessee’s captains were quarterback Tyler Bray, tight end Mychal Rivera, linebacker Johnson and safety Randolph.
A week after catching a touchdown on his birthday, Rivera again caught a special touchdown pass, this time with his sister Naya, a star on the hit Fox show “Glee,” in attendance.
Bray executed a quick-kick on a first-quarter fourth down. Tennessee’s offense lined up as if it would go for a fourth-and-5 on Florida’s 45-yard line before Bray took a few steps back from his normal shotgun position and pooched a 41-yard punt that pinned the Gators at the 4. Bray usually kicks the ball around during practice and before games, and the Vols put his hidden skill to use.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...