The integral 1964-65 recruiting class

By Tom Mattingly

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that it has been 60 years since Tennessee football coaches were signing one of the best football recruiting classes in the school’s history.

The year was 1964. This was Doug Dickey’s first full recruiting class and set the stage for a 34-9-1 record while the 1965 recruits were on the squad.

Tennessee signed 40 players, with some soon-to-be big names set to make their imprint on Vol football. The advent of freshman eligibility wasn’t a factor until 1972, so the Vol rookies played four freshman contests, defeating Virginia Tech, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt, and losing to Alabama.

The 40-member class included three All-American selections (wide receiver/running back Richmond Flowers, defensive back Jimmy Weatherford, and offensive guard Charley Rosenfelder) and six All-SEC selections (tight end Ken DeLong twice, fullback Richard Pickens, Rosenfelder twice, defensive tackle Frank Yanossy, and Weatherford).

The 1966 sophomores lost only two home games during their time on campus (both at home), an 11-10 loss to Alabama on a rain-splattered greensward and a 14-7 loss to Ole Miss, in their first season. Their overall record was 34-9-1, including three consecutive wins over Alabama.

There were 19 who saw varsity service over a three-year period. The class included 11 from the state of Tennessee.

Pickens and Flowers were the two most heralded signees, both signing after contentious recruiting battles with Alabama.

Pickens was from Knoxville’s Young High School and was a bruising runner and devastating blocker who led the SEC in rushing in 1968 with 736 yards. He was also a first-team All-SEC selection in his senior season.

Flowers was a second team 1968 All-SEC selection who added a dimension of speed that gave opponents fits whether he lined at wide receiver or at tailback. He scored the winning touchdown in the 1968 game against the Tide. He was one of the heralded track athletes of his day, winning an NCAA title and six SEC championships. He played in Super Bowl V in 1971 for the Dallas Cowboys, along with former Vols Ron Widby and Steve Kiner.

There were a couple of last-minute wins that helped define the season.

In the 1968 season opener against Georgia, the Vols trailed 17-9 with one last chance to salvage a tie with the eventual SEC champions. Bubba Wyche threw a touchdown pass to Gary Kreis and followed that up with a two-point conversion toss to DeLong.

That season opener offered Vols a new and controversial artificial playing surface on Shields-Watkins Field. Its official name was Tartan Turf, a product of 3M, but the nickname “Doug’s Rug” served as tribute to the Vol head coach.

Tennessee defeated Alabama 10-9, when Weatherford blocked a potential game-winning field goal at the end of the game at Neyland Stadium, changing places with fellow signee Nick Showalter just before the snap. Weatherford also had a strong game in the 1967 Alabama game paired against the Tide’s Dennis Homan. It came a year after Tennessee’s 24-13 triumph over Alabama at Legion Field.

After redshirting in 1966, DeLong started at tight end the next three seasons. He was an All-SEC selection in 1968 and 1969 and caught a touchdown pass from tailback Walter Chadwick in the 1967 Alabama game. His brother, Steve, was an All-American selection at Tennessee in 1963 and 1964 and won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman in 1964.

The Vols added two three-year starters at defensive end in Jim McDonald (Knoxville) and Neal McMeans (Gate City, Va.). Both were solid players. McMeans was a second team All-SEC selection.

Rosenfelder was a three-year starter and was an All-SEC pick in 1967 and 1968. He was the only returnee on the 1968 offensive line and helped lead the way as the Vols earned an 8-2-1 record and played Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

Williams was a three-year starter at defensive tackle and was a steady player throughout his career. He came to Tennessee from Greeneville (Greene County). He was also a 1968 second team All-SEC selection, as were Flowers and Weatherford.

Bill Young, a Knoxville South High School grad, was a versatile athlete who started at safety in 1966. He redshirted in 1967 due to an injury and was again a starter at safety in 1968-69. He was also a key reserve on Tennessee’s 1966-67 SEC title-winning basketball team.

Other members of the class who lettered were wide receiver Bill Baker (Jasper), offensive guard Clifton Stewart (Chesapeake, Va.), defensive back Benny Dalton (Walland), offensive tackle Jerry Holloway (Memphis), nose guard Rick Marino (Memphis), and defensive back Jimmy Thomas (Lake Butler, Fla.). Signee Bill Justus of Fulton High School in Knoxville played on the freshman team, but opted to play basketball, where he was an All-SEC and All-American player, known as the “Adrenaline Kid,” honoring his “take no prisoners” style of play.

The Vols of that day are now in their mid-to-late 70s, but it’s groups like this one that make the term “Vol for Life” an integral part of Tennessee lore and tradition. The Vols had suffered through mediocre at best seasons from 1958 to 1964, but the ensuing seasons brought the Vols back to national prominence.