Wiedmer: Moore's camp as much for parents as kids

Wiedmer: Moore's camp as much for parents as kids

July 27th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

KIMBALL, Tenn. - At least the kid was honest.

Asked if he'd previously heard of all the Tennessee football legends who'd just coached him for four hours at former Vol Eddie Moore's football camp -- guys answering to Gerald Riggs Jr., and Eric Westmoreland, and Al Wilson, and Troy Fleming, etc. -- 12-year-old Hunter Frame replied, "I didn't know any of them before today."

Ouch.

Not that Wilson, the single biggest key to UT's 1998 national championship season, was surprised or hurt by that remark at the end of a long day atop Kimball's ball fields.

"Not at all," he smiled. "That just means I'm getting old."

Shrugged Moore, the former South Pittsburg and Tennessee great who played three seasons for the NFL's Miami Dolphins before a knee injury cut short his promising pro career: "At least the parents know who we are."

Yet if you need another example of how long the Big Orange football program has been wandering around in the wilderness of mediocrity, lost and without a compass, that current two-game losing streak to Vanderbilt isn't the only pretty good measuring stick.

The Vols have been average or worse for so many years -- not a single BCS bowl appearance since 1999 -- that today's youngsters have apparently never heard of all those exceptional players who once made football time in Tennessee so special.

Blame it on the nation's growing disdain for history. Blame it on former coaches Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley. (Everybody else does, including Wilson, who said of the demonized duo: "We had a couple of coaches before Butch Jones who didn't appreciate our traditions.") Blame it on the parents of these kids being so depressed by four straight losing seasons that they can't bear to discuss the good ol' days with their young ones, if only because it makes them realize how far the program's fallen.

But whatever the excuse, it was obvious that the older folks were at least as into this camp as the next generation.

"This means a lot," said Jimmy Wigfall, perhaps the brightest star on South Pitt's 1969 state title team. "It's hard to describe what it's like to see all these well-known UT athletes in our town helping our kids. Lots of NFL guys. This is a huge deal."

Wigfall hoped it would be a similarly huge deal to his grandson, Eulin Matthews, a junior linebacker at Boyd-Buchanan.

"Oh, I learned a lot," Matthews said. "Especially from Al Wilson. He played the same position I did. I really liked the bag drills. Some of these guys have won national championships, so you should listen to them."

Other than Moore, whom everyone from South Pitt knows well, Wilson did seem to be the best known among the youngsters.

"I know Eddie Moore, and I'd heard of Al Wilson," said 10-year-old Austin Jackson, whose father Jeremy was once an All-American baseball player at Tennessee Temple. "I really liked the throwing drills."

So did Frame, though quarterback is about the only position he's yet to star in within South Pitt's youth football league.

And this was Moore's goal. He wanted to enlist his Big Orange buddies to put on a serious clinic with serious drills and serious discussions.

"Yes, there was fun stuff," he said. "It's fun watching us older guys think we've still got it. And it was great giving a lot of folks a G-rated look inside our UT locker room last night.

"But we also wanted to conduct a serious clinic. We wanted to teach fundamentals, and sportsmanship and talk about good grades, because if you don't have good grades you can't play college football today. We came out here and really worked these kids today, especially the older ones."

Yet it was the really older ones, guys like South Pittsburg policeman Brandon "Fat Head" Price, who seemed most impacted by the camp.

"Eddie was a sophomore when I was a senior at South Pitt," said Price, who was a member of the Pirates' 1996 state baseball champions as well as their 1994 football title winners. "Knowing his situation coming through [high] school, the role he had in providing for his sisters, it makes me teary-eyed just thinking about him."

He can also get pretty emotional talking about Tennessee football.

"I took my son [8-year-old Dylan] to the Orange-White game a couple of years ago," he said. "His mother shaved the power 'T' in the back of his head before we went. There were some pictures taken. One of them won some contest and we got an autographed football from Butch Jones. I got all these players to autograph it at the forum last night."

And just to prove the "Fat Head" nickname has merit, Price recalled how it took two people to pull former UT player Tyrone Robinson's helmet from his head when he got a chance to visit the Vols' locker room one year.

"Oh, hearing about the speech Al Wilson gave before the national championship game gave me goosebumps," he said.

Wilson smiled when told of such remarks and recalled a conversation his former UT coach, Phillip Fulmer, once had with him.

"I remember when I was playing he'd tell me, 'You won't appreciate [this attention] now, but you will later. And he was right. Now it's really cool to get recognized, for people to remember when you were a player."

However, it's cooler still to remember your roots.

"Some guys go out and have some success and forget about where they came from," said Wigfall. "But not Eddie [Moore]. Eddie's still Eddie."

And aren't the kids, and the ageless kids, of his hometown lucky that Eddie and his friends are still proud to be Vols for life, regardless of who still knows their names?

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.