Aug 13, 2013
There are two of them.
Two pictures of Al Wilson crouched in a big No. 27 jersey. One is staged, clearly recreated for a photographer. The other is Wilson in action. His helmet and visor hide the piercing stare behind them.
They're pasted in the back of the locker where they'll always be seen and just below the nameplate that reads "Marlon Walls #58" - a gift from a friend.
"In my eyes, he's the greatest player to ever play here," said Walls. "Hands down, just what he brought to the game, the attitude, the momentum.
"So, he's a guy everybody needs to look up to, you know what I mean. I feel like as a team, because he represents everything that Tennessee stands for. Toughness, hard work, and great leadership. So, I just love him man. That's the number one player to ever play here for, in my eyes."
A linebacker from 1995-1998, Wilson made 272 total tackles and is one of UT's most memorable Vol captains. His three forced fumbles in the 1998 game against the No. 2 University of Florida still holds a school record.
And so every day while throwing on his shoulder pads and lacing his shoes, Walls sees Wilson. As a redshirt senior, Walls has seen his hero plenty, but each time is equally as special.
When Wilson spoke to the team on Aug. 9, everyone experienced what Walls had been preaching about.
"As always, Al brings a great message, so it is always great to welcome back all of our former players and we are extremely proud of him and very proud that he came back and spent time with us today," said head coach Butch Jones afterwards.
Coach Tommy Thigpen also joined in raving about Wilson's speech and the message that he sent to the Volunteer team.
Thigpen, the man put in charge of molding the next great set of Tennessee linebackers, said that in a football world of alpha and beta males, Wilson is the ultimate alpha after having notched 45 wins and only 5 losses in his Tennessee career.
"You see a guy like him, come to talk to your team so it's the things that we preach in our room, toughness and being sparse, then a guy like him come in there in and says the same things we talk about," said Thigpen. "You know, it's the characteristic of a great linebacker, a great leader."
For Walls, each time he tries to soak anything he can in from the Tennessee legend. And the former All-American Wilson has plenty to share.
"Every time he sees me man, he keeps repeating in my mind, `just be a leader, lead the troops,'" said Walls. "Sometimes, it's going to be tough, because he always tells us, `the guys you're trying to lead, those are your boys.' So, sometimes it's hard to snatch them up and tell them you know hey, we're doing the wrong thing. He represents everything that I think Tennessee stands for. That's a guy that I very and truly idolize."