published Friday, July 26th, 2013

Chris White's UT career has sweet end

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    Chris White from University of Tennessee during the 1985 Sugar Bowl when the Vols beat then second-ranked Miami.

Chattanooga area's top 13 all-time defensive backs

Vonn Bell (Ridgeland, Ohio State) -- He had offers from numerous college powerhouses including Alabama and Notre Dame plus most of the SEC teams before settling on Ohio State over Tennessee. His junior season (180 tackles with 119 solos) set off the recruiting flurry that only intensified as he continued to put up astonishing numbers. While primarily a defensive standout, Bell was a special offensive threat as well. While he had 146 tackles last year, he also contributed 1,700 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns.

Eddie Brown (Marion County, Tennessee, NFL, USFL) -- A team captain and All-American for Tennessee, he still ranks third in season punt returns for the Vols. He was a two-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection while with the Redskins and also played with the Browns (who drafted him) and the Rams, for whom he played in a Super Bowl. He played with the Chicago Blitz and the Arizona Wrangers of the USFL. He was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

Daniel Bullocks (Hixson, Nebraska, NFL) -- He was a state Mr. Football in high school and later became a second-team All-Big 12 and second-round NFL draft pick by the Detroit Lions.

Josh Bullocks (Hixson, Nebraska, NFL) -- He led the nation with 10 interceptions at Nebraska and became a second-round NFL draft pick by New Orleans and later played for the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders.

Jeremy Caldwell (Red Bank, Eastern Kentucky) -- A three-time all-region and all-state player, he returned nine kickoffs for touchdowns while at Red Bank. He was All-OVC and an All-American during his time at Eastern Kentucky. Drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, he's now with the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders.

Donnie Elder (Brainerd, Memphis State, NFL) -- An all-city and all-state player at Brainerd, where he played a lot at quarterback, Elder became a full-time defensive back at Memphis and played six years in the NFL with Tampa Bay, New York Jets, Detroit, San Diego and Pittsburgh.

Jay Fullam (McCallie, Vanderbilt, Air Force) -- A two-time Times Free Press all-city star, Fullam signed with Vanderbilt and started as a redshirt freshman before deciding to transfer to the Air Force Academy to follow a family legacy of fighter pilots.

Dominique McDuffie (Red Bank, Appalachian State) -- He was an all-city player at Red Bank and started on both offense and defense for then-Lions coach Tim Daniels. As a senior he intercepted four passes, returning two for touchdowns, and also had 78 tackles plus 52 catches for 910 yards and 13 TDs. He started as a freshman at Appalachian State.

Dorian Porch (Gordon Central, Virginia Tech) -- A two-time all-state player for the Calhoun school, Porch played quarterback and defensive back at Gordon Central before becoming a two-year starter at safety for the Hokies.

Tawambi Settles (McCallie, Duke, NFL, XFL) -- He was an all-state player for McCallie, where he lettered in basketball, football, track and baseball. He was a four-year letterman at Duke, playing both safety and cornerback and making a career-high 106 tackles in 1996. He signed as a free agent with Detroit and also spent time in Green Bay, Jacksonville and New York (Giants) plus a season with the Xtreme Football League (New York/New Jersey). A former high school head coach (David Brainerd), he now is an assistant at McCallie.

Jeff Suttle (LaFayette, Clemson) -- An outstanding two-way player and three-sport letterman at LaFayette, he was a member of the Tigers' 1981 national championship team. Then a sophomore, he had 38 tackles as a second-team safety that season and wound up as a three-year letterman. He currently is the athletic director at LaFayette.

Jimmy Weatherford (Dalton, Tennessee, NFL) -- An outstanding player at Dalton and a fan favorite at UT, Weatherford earned All-America honors in 1968. That year the Vols went 8-2-1, posting two shutouts and holding three other opponents to a touchdown or less. He was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in 1969.

Chris White (Bradley Central, Tennessee, NFL) -- An All-American and member of the 1985 All-SEC team, he led the nation with nine interceptions and interception-return yardage. He was drafted by and played for the Seattle Seahawks but spent most of his pro career in Italy.

The 1986 Sugar Bowl was a near-miracle finish to a near-miraculous season for Tennessee, which ended 9-1-2 with a stunning and lopsided upset of powerful Miami.

The Hurricanes were on the verge of a national championship, entering the game ranked second in the national polls and needing only one more win to gain the national title. Coach Jimmy Johnson, his prized quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, and the raucous Miami fans scuttled back to south Florida with all their boasting wind having been spent in New Orleans' famed French Quarter.

The Volunteers had climbed to eighth in the polls but were decided underdogs, yet as Miami would discover, they were blue-collar underdogs from quarterback Daryl Dickey and running back Jeff Powell to linebackers Dale Jones, Kelly Ziegler and Darren Miller and safety Chris White.

"There were a lot of guys that worked hard that weren't the greatest athletes," said White, a former all-state quarterback from Bradley Central who was forced to wait until his senior season to start and then at safety and only by accident.

With Charles Davis, now a college and pro football commentator, unable to play in the opener against UCLA, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound White stepped in and made three interceptions on his way to an All-America season and five years of football in Europe.

One of White's nine pickoffs that year came in the Sugar Bowl when Tennessee's defense, coached by Ken Donahue, sacked Testaverde seven times for minus-84 yards and forced him into three interceptions and three fumbles.

It all hinged on a finger.

"It's a story not many people have heard, but we knew on every play whether they were going to run or pass," White related. "Coach Donahue picked up on it watching film: One of their linemen put down three fingers when they were running and just two if it was a pass, and one of our linemen would holler out 'Red' or 'Blue.'"

Dickey had taken over for Tony Robinson, a Heisman Trophy candidate who was injured in the Alabama game, and led the Vols to a 6-1-1 record. White, who nailed down a starting position after the UCLA showing, was an SEC player of the week for a performance against Ole Miss that included an interception, a blocked punt, a fumble caused and a fumble recovered.

It might not have happened if then Vols coach Johnny Majors hadn't found out White was considering leaving UT.

"They had moved me to defensive end, and I knew that I could probably go to Memphis and start," White said. "I checked to see how my grades and credits would transfer, and the next day Coach Majors came up to me at practice and said, 'Huh, what's this I hear about you transferring?' Within a week I was back at quarterback."

And then there was a change in defensive backfield coaches, from George Catavalos to Ron Zook. It was a breath of fresh air for White, who butted heads with Catavalos because he was running third or fourth string.

"I had a better relationship with Coach Zook," said White, who moved up the depth chart before his senior year.

It was the development and transfer from offense to defense of Terry McDaniel, the Vols' fastest player, that really made Tennessee tough.

"Terry had hands of stone -- I told him back then and I still tell him," White said, "and couldn't really catch, but when they moved him to cornerback with Andre Creamer, it allowed Coach Donahue to go to a lot of man coverage outside, which then gave the safeties a lot of freedom."

"The [1985] season was a blur. It went by so fast," White said. "After the UCLA game I had a chip on my shoulder and wouldn't talk to anybody, but [sports information director] Heywood Harris came and got me and made me sit down and talk with reporters."

Along the way to the Sugar Bowl, the Vols knocked off top-ranked Auburn and Bo Jackson and beat favored Alabama and Mike Shula at Legion Field.

"Early in the game, Bo ran a sweep and I came up and hit him full speed. It's the only time I laid on a football field. I was knocked out," White recalled. "A series or two after that, he left the game and never came back.

"The whole season was pretty much a dream season. I had paid my dues, but I guess the good Lord was looking after me."

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765.

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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