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FORUMS | CHAT | PRINT THIS STORY

Lewis, Smith chose
Vols over Huskers

By Mike Griffith
News-Sentinel sportswriter
Dec. 21, 1999

Tennessee tailbacks Jamal Lewis and Onterrio Smith can see themselves scoring against Nebraska in the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl.

But both players confess there was a time when scoring for the Cornhuskers was easier to visualize than scoring against them.

"Growing up, Nebraska was one of the teams I was really attracted to," said Smith, a freshman from Sacramento, Calif. "But once I got out there on my official visit, and got around the players and looking at the stadium, it just didn't seem like everything I thought it would be.

"I can't tell you what I expected, but I expected more."

Smith, on the other hand, has been everything the Vols expected and more. He's rushed for 189 yards on 31 carries (6.1 yards per attempt), and Smith has scored two touchdowns in each of the last two games.

Lewis, a junior from Atlanta, led the Vols with 816 yards rushing this season and scored seven touchdowns, and he was the fourth leading receiver with 15 catches for 193 yards. Lewis, like Smith, took an official visit to Nebraska before choosing Tennessee.

"I thought it was an excellent program and they treated me with a lot of respect on my visit," Lewis said. "I was just waiting for coach (Tom) Osborne to call when Tennessee called."

Lewis was recruited by former Vol assistant Rodney Garner, who at the time was being wooed by Georgia.

"If Coach Garner had left for Georgia, I was going to go to Nebraska," Lewis said. "He's the reason I'm here. He persuaded me and convinced me to come to Tennessee."

Garner stayed on the Vols' staff through 1997 before leaving Lewis and jumping over to Georgia's staff for the 1998 season.

Lewis said he doesn't regret his decision, and is looking forward to playing against Nebraska again. Lewis had 90 yards on 14 carries in the Vols' 42-17 loss to the Cornhuskers in the 1998 Orange Bowl and was named Tennessee's Most Valuable Player.

"Winning MVP didn't mean nothing to me because we lost," Lewis said. "We have to go into this game strong, because I don't want it to be a repeat of that game. That was embarrassing."

Lewis said he hasn't decided on his plans for the future beyond Jan. 2.

"It could be my last game at Tennessee, or it could be the start of next year," Lewis said. "Either way, I'm going to leave everything I got on the field."

Smith said there will be competition at tailback regardless of whether Lewis returns for his senior season or not.

"This is Tennessee, and the talent never stops coming," Smith said. "As long as I get some opportunities to show what kind of back I am, I'm happy."

Smith said there's a few people at Nebraska that need convincing, too.

"I remember on my visit there I was telling some of the defensive players how good I was, and I guess they didn't believe me," Smith said. "Now, finally, we get to play them, and if I get carries, I can show them what I was talking about.

"Every time I think about Nebraska now, that's all I think about, that could be me starting against Tennessee. But things turned outreal well for me here."

SELECTIVE AMNESIA: Junior Travis Henry, who will start the Fiesta Bowl at tailback for UT, said the concussion he suffered against Vanderbilt on Nov. 27 won't be a factor.

"I don't even think about that play," said Henry, who rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in the first half against the Commodores. "I'm happy to be practicing and I feel like I'm 100 percent. I feel quicker than ever and my confidence is high."

Henry said he knows a challenge awaits him in Tempe.

"Nebraska has a very physical defense and the get to the ball with great pursuit," Henry said. "You're going to have to get some tough yards and go North and South to break their will."

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