Wide receiver Robert Meachem was the sole five-star recruit in Tennessee's 2003 class, and the humble, soft-spoken guy from Oklahoma must have felt the heat of the spotlight immediately. The second he stepped onto campus, he faced hordes of snapping cameras and clusters of microphones positioned to catch every word he uttered in response to a media battery of relentless comparisons to all-time great Tennessee receivers like Carl Pickens, Willie Gault, Peerless Price, and Donte Stallworth. One glance at his recruiting profile, and Tennessee fans and media alike were declaring that this was the guy who was going to re-establish the University of Tennessee as Wide Receiver U.
Stumbling Out of the Gate
Unfortunately, Meachem spent his entire true freshman season rehabbing a torn meniscus in his right knee. In 2004, he did get onto the field , but while the comparisons to former Vol greats continued unabated, Meachem's potential remained just that -- potential. He fanned the flames of expectation by making his first career reception a 35-yard TD, but although he played in 13 games (none of which he started) and led the receiving corps, he only caught 25 passes for 459 yards and four touchdowns.
Meachem played his own part in the season-long debacle in 2005 known around these parts as The Season of Which We Do Not Speak. It seems that the team and its fans had fallen prey to the fallacy that aptitude necessarily translated into achievement. Color commentators continually dubbed the Tennessee receiving
corpse corps, led by Meachem, as "one of the most talented in the country," but that didn't necessarily mean they could catch. He played in 11 games that season, but he caught only 29 passes for 383 yards and two touchdowns. The losing season was without a doubt a team effort, but the loss to Notre Dame was, in Meachem's own words, directly attributable to his failure to make a couple of catches he simply should have made. Vol fans' fantasies of a return to Wide Receiver U followed the season down the drain and took up residency in the septic tank.
The Restoration Project
And then came change. Toward the end of The Season of Which We Do Not Speak, some brilliant mind concluded that the receivers weren't learning how to be physical and stripped them of their green, no-contact jerseys. After the season, coach Fulmer canned receivers coach Pat Washington and put enthusiastic sage Trooper Taylor in charge of the restoration project:
If you can catch a brick,
Vol fans first caught a glimpse of what was to come during the 2005 spring scrimmage when Meachem caught two touchdown passes, one of which went for 70 yards. And this was not just more of the "potential" we had been talking about since Meachem arrived on Rocky Top; this time it was a sign of things to come. Beginning with the first game of the 2006 season, Meachem served notice that he was ready to be the guy everyone hoped he would be. Against Cal, he caught five passes for a stunning 182 yards and two touchdowns, and he did not relent the entire season.. Meachem finished the 2006 season with 71 receptions and a single-season school record of 1,298 yards. Due to his quiet demeanor and general disdain for theatrics, he was often over-shadowed by Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson, despite the fact that his numbers were often actually better. When we closed the books on 2006, Meachem was second on UT's single-season list for catches, fourth all-time at UT in receiving yardage, fifth in receptions (125), and fifth in receiving touchdowns (17).
After playing a bit part in The Season of Which We Do Not Speak, Robert Meachem played the starring role in the first act of The Return to Wide Receiver U.
A couple of interesting notes about Meachem:
- If he's vomiting on the sideline, expect a special game from him. His propensity for regurgitation got a lot of play early in the season, but it died down. Expect it to come up (ha!) again at the NFL level.
- Humble. Humble, humble, humble. Did I say, humble? Humble.
Best dramatic quote of the season, on the Alabama game:
When you walked in the huddle and you saw those o-linemen's eyes . . . and then you see those tight ends' and running backs' eyes . . . you see Bret Smith and Lucas Taylor and Josh Briscoe. When you looked at those eyes, everyone was ready. Then the captain came and controlled the game. Erik came in the huddle and said, "Here's what we're going to do. We're going to score."That's a great quote, despite the fact that there were apparently 14 men in the huddle at the time.
- I wasn't able to find any video compilations just of Meachem, but pretty much any 2006 season highlights will feature him extensively. Check out either the official game highlight videos or the user-submitted YouTubes.