Every year, there are a handful of freshmen players who break out and make an impact bigger than anyone could have hoped. This year, like every year, fans all over the country are praying for that one freshman whose performance lifts his team to the next level.
The 2010 season in Tennessee saw the emergence of quarterback Tyler Bray, who has become the talk of Tennessee with one of the best seasons a freshman could ask for in his five starts.
So where does Bray rank when compared with all other freshman performances throughout Tennessee's 119 year history? Keep reading to find out.
I reserved this slide for the guys who had outstanding performances, but don't measure up to the other six on the list for one reason or another.
Tyler Bray, QB (2010)
If you look at Bray's stats in his inaugural season, you can't help but be amazed.
In five starts in nine games, Bray was 125/224 with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for 1,849 yards. He also ended the season with a QB rating of 142.73 and was SEC Freshman of the Week three times.
In one half against Memphis (his first start), he threw 308 yards and 5 TDs. Wowed yet? Well, to put it in perspective, his regular season starts were against Memphis, Mississippi, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. Those teams combined for 13 wins (six of those from Kentucky). Bray still looked good against North Carolina's top notch defense, but the weakness of the schedule he played keeps him from the top six.
Dustin Colquitt, P (2001)
Colquitt was probably one of the best punters ever to play in college. That said, he was a punter.
Still, he kicked 51 punts his freshman year, averaging 39.6 yards for punt, with 13 of those punts downed within the 20. He was also a Freshman All-SEC player and managed to get drafted in 2005 in the third round.
All of this is great for a punter, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a punter, so he doesn't join the top six.
Justin Hunter, WR (2010)
While Hunter's season wasn't that great if you glance at his stats (16 receptions, seven TDs, 415 yards), something sticks out: TD percentage.
If you wanna know why Vols fans are excited for 2011, reread Bray's section and remember this number: 43.8 percent. Of the 16 times Hunter caught the ball, seven of those catches resulted in touchdowns. To put in perspective how insanely high that is, A.J. Green's percentage was 15.8 percent, and Alshon Jefferey's was 10.2 percent.
Hunter doesn't make the top six because, outside of that number, he had an OK freshman year. Still, such an accomplishment deserves mentioning. He will certainly have more than 16 receptions in 2011.
In an era where true freshmen linemen do not start, Muñoz started at guard as a true freshman. Before him, the last true freshman to start at guard at Tennessee was Bill Mayo in 1981.
It's hard to get stats to show how good an offensive lineman is, but for a guard, a running back's numbers can help. Here's Travis Henry's 2000 stats: 11 games, 253 attempts, 1,314 yards, and 11 TDs. That's a very respectable 119 yards per game, and a lot of that was due to Muñoz's superb blocking.
He was also a Rivals Freshman All-American and a Sporting News Second Team Freshman All-American, if that helps.
He didn't just impress on the football field either. Muñoz graduated from UT in just over three years with a 3.67 GPA and won the Draddy Trophy, the award given to the college player with the best combination of academics, community service, and on-field performance.
As good as he was, the son of Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz did not get drafted, and decided to pursue a career outside of football instead of entering undrafted free agency.
You had to know Manning would be here somewhere.
We all know how good Peyton Manning was and is. The thing is, he was that good almost immediately. Despite being the third-string quarterback at the beginning of his freshman year, injuries forced him into the spotlight, and he hasn't been out of it since.
Manning had eight starts in 1994, and only lost to Florida, getting Tennessee to No. 18 on the Coaches Poll after a Gator Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. For the season, Manning was 89/144 for 1,141 yards, 11 TDs, and six interceptions. He finished sixth in the race for the Heisman.
Of course, we all know the story after that; Manning became one of the winningest SEC quarterbacks of all time, lost the Heisman to Charles Woodson, and was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL draft. He has played in two Super Bowls and won one, along with four MVPs.
Some will point out that Bray's numbers from his freshman year are better than Manning's. While that is true, Manning still had the higher completion percentage (62 percent to 56 percent) and played against better competition. Furthermore, Manning proved himself to be the real deal in the years to come, while Bray still has three years of eligibility in front of him. While I think Bray is a rare talent, I'm waiting til 2011 to render my final judgment.
Kelley Washington was one of the best receivers Tennessee has ever seen, and it's a shame that his college career was cut so short due to injury.
Nearly all of his stats were compiled in his freshman year. Those stats? Seventy receptions for 1,080 yards and seven TDs. He was also a Football Writers Association of America and Sporting News Freshman All-American. He still holds the Tennessee record for receiving yards in a single game (256 vs. LSU), which he achieved as a freshman.
A series of injuries over the next two years limited his play to a few games, leaving his freshman year as his only real mark on Tennessee football. Had he not been wrecked by injuries, who knows what he could of done in his time on Rocky Top?
He entered the draft in 2003 and was taken in the third round by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Casey was the first of two Clausens to play quarterback at Tennessee. (He was followed by Rick; Jimmy went to Notre Dame.)
He led Tennessee to an SEC East title in 2001, but before that, he was a freshman phenom. How good was he? His first play as a quarterback was a 19-yard touchdown pass to David Martin against Louisiana-Monroe. In his first year at quarterback, Clausen started seven regular season games, leading UT to victory in all of them.
At the end of the season he was 121/194 for 1,473 yards (then a freshman record), 15 TDs, and only six interceptions. That's a completion percentage of 62 percent (higher than both Bray's and Manning's).
Clausen led Tennessee to victory in every home game except one, and his career win/loss record was 34-10. He also was named MVP in Tennessee's 2002 Capital One Bowl trouncing of Michigan 45-17.
Unfortunately, his prowess in college did not translate to the NFL. He went undrafted in 2004 and never started as an NFL quarterback.
With the exception of Reggie White and Doug Atkins, Eric Berry may be the greatest Tennessee Vol defender to ever play the game.
Coming into Tennessee as the No. 1 defensive back prospect in the country, Berry did what few No. 1 prospects do: He lived up to the hype.
In his first year on Rocky Top, Berry led all SEC freshmen in tackles with 86 and caught five interceptions, returning them for 222 yards. This beat the previous return record by 43 yards. One of those interceptions (thrown by Tim Tebow) he ran back 96 yards for a touchdown. This was the third longest in SEC history.
Berry finished up the season a consensus Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-American, along with recognition as the Defensive Freshman of the Year.
Berry continued his greatness for two more years, then headed to the draft after winning the Jim Thorpe Award his junior year. He was selected fifth overall, and in his first year as a pro, he was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Had he stayed in Tennessee for his senior season, he likely would've broken every NCAA record that pertains to defensive backs. As it stands, he had the second best freshman performance of any Vol.
Jamal Lewis's 1997 season was so good that it ranks among the best EVER, even among the performances of upperclassmen.
As a freshman, Lewis rushed 232 times in 12 games for 1,364 yards, averaging a very good 5.88 yards per carry. That's the best freshman season any running back has ever had at Tennessee. Furthermore, he came just 100 yards short of Tennessee's all-time rushing record that season.
"So what?" you might say. Well, OK, let me blow your mind. He accomplished this feat in Peyton Manning's senior season. Lewis was not a running back carrying a team, he was an untested freshman running back playing next to the best quarterback Tennessee has ever seen.
That means when Phil Fulmer had to decide between putting the ball into the hands of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, or Lewis, he chose Lewis 232 times.
By the way, when he left for the draft, he went fifth overall to the Baltimore Ravens, who won the Super Bowl the next year. In his NFL career, Lewis was both a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro, won Offensive player of the Year, and was one of only six men to rush for 2,000 yards in a season (his yardage total is second only to Eric Dickerson).
That's why, for me, Lewis is the best freshman to ever don the orange and white.