JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — A pair of Tennessee walk-on football players have been awarded scholarships.
Volunteers coach Butch Jones said before Tuesday night's Big Orange Caravan stop that fifth-year offensive lineman Jacob Gilliam and rising sophomore Devaun Swafford have been rewarded for their work.
Jones said it was "very well deserved" for Gilliam and Swafford.
"That's one of the rewards of being a football coach," the coach said, "when you can call 'em and say, 'You've worked yourself on scholarship,' and that's what our program is all about."
Swafford, out of Dobyns-Bennett in Kingsport, joined the Vols last year along with high school teammate Malik Foreman and split time with JaRon Toney, another former walk-on, at nickelback last season after it once appeared he would grayshirt and delay his enrollment a semester.
The 5-foot-11, 184-pounder returned an interception for a touchdown at Florida, took a blocked punt back for a score against Georgia and made six tackles and forced a fumble against Vanderbilt as the Vols "asked a lot" of the freshman.
The 6-foot-4, 287-pound Gilliam is a tackle out of Farragut High School outside of Knoxville who's been with the program since 2010 and has just three career in just three games, in garbage time against Kentucky in 2012 and the Alabama and Missouri games in 2013.
Gilliam spent most of spring practice ahead of junior college transfer Dontavius Blair with Tennessee's first-team offense at left tackle, and his ability to stick through the unforgiving life of a walk-on lineman now has been rewarded.
"I think it speaks volumes," Jones said. "It means everything. He's been through a lot. We've asked a lot out of him, and again, he's persevered, he's handled adversity, but he is an individual who came with a work ethic each and every day, so we're very excited about him. It's a great illustration to a lot of our younger players as well."
The 18 newcomers from the 2014 signing class scheduled to join the program this summer unofficially will put Tennessee at 81 scholarships, four less than the NCAA mandate of 85, so Jones had some scholarships to give.
"It's a work ethic," he said. "It's everything that goes into it. It's the ability to handle adversity and persevere. They're very, very consistent in their approach, and not only are they helping us on the football field, they're doing well in the classroom.
"Just as well as deciding who to put on scholarship with their on-the-field performance and what they bring in the locker room to the team, it's every bit about their academic performance as well.
"We'll probably have one more individual that we'll announce very soon that will be going on scholarship. There's a lot that goes into it, but we want to reward the players in our football program that adhere to the standard and expectation and help us in winning.
"Those two individuals have done that, and that's one of the exciting things about being a coach, is being able to present them and their family with a scholarship, because I know they've worked exceptionally hard for it."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
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 ...