Before we conclude our Tennessee All-Decade features with the unveiling of our football all-decade team, we present to you a vote in which there is truly no wrong choice. In the last ten years, three players have separated themselves from the rest in the university's most important sports. There have been others, like John Henderson and Ron Slay, who gave unique and memorable contributions to Tennessee from 2000-2009. And we also give an honorable mention nod to Monica Abbott and Justin Gatlin, who made tremendous contributions to the university in women's softball and track and field.
But these three players redefined greatness at their respective positions at the highest level, and have become truly iconic figures in Tennessee lore - there has never been anyone at this university like them.
Who is the Vol of the Decade? Is it the once-in-a-generation talent at strong safety who broke SEC records in his first two seasons, then redefined himself in his third? Is it the three point specialist, overlooked by his home state so he could lead our basketball program to unprecedented heights? Or is it the woman who has put herself in the conversation on the best women's basketball player ever, carrying the Lady Vols to back-to-back championships along the way?
Eric Berry, Chris Lofton, and Candace Parker. We break down the numbers with video highlights after the jump, and ask you to decide...
- 14 career interceptions for 494 ret. yards, second most in NCAA history
- 2007 Freshman All-SEC & All-American
- 2008 & 2009 First Team All-SEC & All-American
- 2008 SEC Defensive Player of the Year
- 2008 Thorpe Award finalist & 2009 Thorpe Award winner
- Named college football strong safety of the decade by Sports Illustrated
There are so many great plays in Berry's three year career, many of his interception returns run together. His hits on Tyler Donovan, Knowshon Moreno, Marquis Maze and Tim Tebow will not soon be forgotten by fans of both schools involved. And his presence, both as a deep safety and up in the box, was one of a kind.
Berry was also instrumental in the three year transition period in Tennessee Football throughout his career. He won an Eastern Division Championship in 2007 and came up huge on the big stage in the SEC Championship Game. He was the lone bright spot in Phillip Fulmer's final season in 2008, winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors despite the fact that his team went 5-7. And his willingness to move towards the line and sacrifice statistics to help the team win helped Lane Kiffin's first season go as well as it did - and it turns out he didn't have to sacrifice individual honors to do so, winning the Thorpe Award. Berry will most likely be the highest Vol drafted since Peyton Manning...and is probably the best player we've seen since.
- SEC all-time leader in career three pointers made (367)
- SEC all-time leader in three pointers made by a freshman (93 in 2005)
- 2005 Freshman All-SEC
- 2006, 2007, 2008 First Team All-SEC
- 2007 Second Team All-American
- 2008 Third Team All-American
Like Berry's interceptions, Lofton's threes are so numerous that many of them run together. The most memorable ones, however, do not: falling away to beat Winthrop in the NCAA Tournament, putting one in over Kevin Durant to get the Vols to overtime in a game they'd eventually win, and one final shot against South Carolina in the 2008 SEC Tournament. He shot the team to victory with a barrage of threes multiple times, put the team on his back in a Rupp Arena homecoming win, and beat Tiger High in blowout fashion one year, and with two final free throws in the 1 vs. 2 game the next. He made defensive plays to beat Florida, and got better every season...
...until his story took an unexpected turn, one Lofton never shared until it was over. He played the entire 2008 season while recovering from cancer treatments, always putting the team first, never wanting his own personal story to be a distraction. And he is the player most responsible for the Vols' resurrection under Bruce Pearl, winning an SEC Championship and making the Vols relevant. There has never been a shooter in the SEC like #5...
- Won back-to-back National Championships in 2007 & 2008
- 2006, 2007, 2008 First Team All-SEC & All-American
- 2006 SEC Freshman of the Year
- 2006 SEC Tournament MVP
- 2007 SEC Player of the Year
- 2007 & 2008 Final Four Most Outstanding Player (only four players have ever won twice)
- First Overall Pick in 2008 WNBA Draft
- 2008 WNBA Rookie of the Year & Most Valuable Player
EB and C-Lo may seem like the favorites, but Candace Parker has two things they don't: a pair of National Championship rings, and an argument as the best to ever play her game.
Parker brought the Lady Vols out of their championship drought in leading them to titles in '07 and '08. It was her playing style - 6'4" with guard-like tendencies and an intimidating post presence...and she can dunk - that separated her from other Lady Vol greats, and she became the fastest ever to 1,000 points in Knoxville.
ESPN The Magazine promoted her as "The Female Jordan" in 2008, and as she balances motherhood and professional basketball, the WNBA looks to her as one of their saviors. Candace Parker's impact on women's basketball is still growing, and could be bigger than anyone before her by the time she's done...and she's just getting started.