The best offensive player to ever wear No. 50

By Tom Mattingly

Mark down Jan. 1, 1967, as an orange letter day in the history of Tennessee football. That was the day the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported that Curtis Cliff “Chip” Kell from Decatur, Georgia, had become a Vol. He is still a “Vol for Life” 57 years later.

He was the linchpin of a 39-man recruiting class that included quarterback Bobby Scott from Rossville, Georgia, wide receiver Lester McClain from Nashville, offensive guard Don Denbo from Pulaski, 1970 captain Tim Priest, wide receiver Joe Thompson from Savannah, center Mike Bevans from Donelson, offensive tackle Steve Robinson from Franklin, end/middle guard James Woody from Columbia, quarterback/kick holder Jim Maxwell from Nashville, end/monster man Ronnie Drummonds from Knoxville, lineman Alvah Bible from Corbin, Kentucky, lineman David Browne from Birmingham, Alabama, lineman John Keller from Bristol, running back George Silvey from Nashville, defensive back Wayne Spain from Jackson, Bobby Thomas from Brownsville, and Gary Wemlinger from Morristown.

While that news was well received by media and fans all across Big Orange Country, at least one journalist in Atlanta, Allen Hauck, was not impressed in the least with the Vols’ recruiting haul.

Here’s his report.

“While Georgia Tech and Georgia were busy with their bowl preparation, seven top-flight high school prospects, including Avondale’s Chip Kell, were whisked away this week by out-of-state universities.

“Kell, a stocky 5-10, 225-pound middle guard who forgoes football in the spring to throw the shot put, was claimed by football and track-conscious Tennessee.

“A shoo-in Class AAA All-State selection, Kell was rated among the state’s top prospects. He was moved from tackle to middle guard this year by Avondale Coach Cal Ramsey and the position apparently was made for him. Kell anchored the Blue Devils line this season and was instrumental in the team’s 10-0 regular season record.

“In addition to his football prowess, Kell is a widely-acclaimed track man, setting several national shot put marks during his high school career.”

Kell ended up in Knoxville, playing center as a sophomore (1968) and moving to right guard the next two seasons (1969-70). He was a three-year starter. He was part of the inaugural class of the Georgia High School Football Hall of Fame when the hall was created in 2022.

He was a 2006 inductee into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame, joining former players Bobby Anderson (Colorado), Bennie Blades (Miami), Carl Eller (Minnesota), Thomas Everett (Baylor), Chad Hennings (Air Force), Mike Phipps (Purdue), Mike Rozier (Nebraska), Jeff Siemen (Stanford), Bruce Smith (Virginia Tech), Emmitt Smith (Florida), and Charlie Ward (Florida State).

Kell was a two-time All-American selection and two-time Jacobs Trophy winner (both in 1969-70) as the SEC’s best blocker. He was also a three-time All-SEC selection under Doug Dickey and Bill Battle.

He wore No. 50 on his orange and white jersey, a jersey number that has produced such luminaries as Don Edmiston (Tackle, All-SEC, 1941), Frank Emanuel (Linebacker, All-SEC, All-American, 1965), Paul Naumoff (Linebacker, All-SEC, All-American, 1966), Andy Spiva (Linebacker, All-SEC, 1975-76), and Tom Myslinski (Offensive guard, All-SEC, 1990).

A case can be made he was the best offensive player to ever wear No. 50, while Emanuel was the best to wear No. 50 defensively.

He never played in a losing game on Shields-Watkins Field. His Vol debut on that famed greensward was in a 17-17 deadlock against Georgia in the 1968 season opener.

During his time, the Vols also never lost against Alabama, winning 10-9 in 1968, 41-14 in 1969, and 24-0 in 1970.

He was named national lineman of the week after the 1970 Kentucky game. He was the Birmingham Quarterback Club’s SEC’s most outstanding lineman in his senior season. He also played in the 1971 Senior Bowl.

Kell was a two-sport star for the Vols. He also excelled in the shot put for the Tennessee track team. He won both the 1969 Indoor and Outdoor SEC titles and the 1968 Indoor title as well. At the end of his career, he held the school record in the shot put with a mark of 58’-7” set in 1968.

“Chip Kell was one of the most powerful athletes that I had ever coached at that time,” said former UT Director of Athletics Doug Dickey, his head coach in 1968 and 1969. “He was way ahead of his time in development by use of weight training, and he became a true leader on the football team.”

After receiving news of his induction to the Hall of Fame, Kell said, “I owe everything to God, my family, school, and football. It was an honor to play for Coach Dickey and Coach Battle. I owe a great deal to my high school coaches, Lefty Thompson and Calvin Ramsey.”

In 2014, he published a book titled, “All In God’s Glory: Adoption To The College Football Hall Of Fame.” The book takes the reader on a life-long journey from being adopted by two loving people on to the College Football Hall of Fame. The story is told of all the trials and tribulations of a record-setting athlete trying to make life-defining decisions plus having to deal with a premature, unexpected career-ending injury.

Curtis Cliff Kell was born on March 10, 1949, and died on May 26, 2024.

Requiescat in pace.