Legendary Tennessee linebacker Al Wilson was named to the 2021 College Football Hall of Fame Class on Monday afternoon. Wilson is the 25th former Tennessee Volunteers football player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, in a ceremony that will take place this December.
Those who watched Al Wilson in college (or, heck, even watch his old game tape on Youtube nowadays) are not surprised. Wilson’s Tennessee accolades speak for themselves. He arrived after an illustrious career at Jackson Central-Merry High School, where he was viewed as the top prospect in the region. He played both sides of the ball while in high school, but he quickly made the switch to full time linebacker once he got to Knoxville.
His freshman year in 1995 was encouraging. He played in a reserve role, but made enough of an impact to garner 25 tackles by end of year.
The legend of Al Wilson truthfully began in 1996. Wilson was named a starter as a sophomore and immediately got to dominating. By the end of the season, Wilson totaled 87 tackles, 8 tackles-for-loss, and 2 forced fumbles. Impressive numbers for an underclassmen, especially on a Tennessee team that was fairly talented.
His 1997 season was hampered by an ankle injury, but a look at the stat sheet wouldn’t tell it. He grabbed Second Team All-SEC honors with 83 tackles, 7 tackles-for-loss, and 5 sacks. The improvement was obvious, and by now Wilson had made a name for himself as a devastating linebacker who offenses had to account for on every play.
It culminated in the famed 1998 national championship season. Tennessee got the best version of Wilson yet. Despite missing a few contests, Wilson was named First Team All-American and First Team All-SEC. The numbers include 77 tackles, 6 tackles-for-loss, 5 forced fumbles, and 4 sacks. Three of those forced fumbles came against the Florida Gators—allowing Tennessee to get the proverbial monkey off their back and finally take them down on the way to the title game. Wilson’s leadership was essential in getting the Volunteers over the hump and bringing home the 6th national championship in program history.
By the end of his Tennessee career, there was no doubt that Wilson ranked up there with the greats. Few could replicate the leadership he showed on the field, as well as the ability to rise to the occasion. It’s safe to say that Tennessee does not win the 1998 championship if Wilson isn’t there. For his storied accomplishments, Wilson is clearly deserving of the Hall of Fame honor.