The University of Tennessee has had a large number of talented athletes play for their various varsity sports throughout the decades. The Vols’ football team has had their fair share of those talented athletes suit up for them. And according to one site, Tennessee had one of the greatest athletes in NFL history play for them before turning pro.
Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report recently compiled a list of the 25 best athletes in NFL history, and a former Vol cracked the top 10.
According to Tanier, the ninth-best athlete in NFL history is none other than football and track star Willie Gault.
Gault was a dynamic wide receiver, kick returner, and track athlete for the Vols from 1979-82, and he remained just that after graduating from the university as well. Gault won a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears in 1985 and finished his 11-year NFL career with 333 receptions for 6,635 yards and 44 touchdowns, averaging 19.9 yards per reception in his career. The explosive receiver averaged over 20 yards a catch five times in his 11 years in the league, and he also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 1985 and averaged over 24 yards per kick return in his career.
But Gault wasn’t just an exceptional football player. He had Olympic-level talent off the football field as well.
While still at Tennessee, Gault qualified for the 1980 Olympics in both the 100-meter dash and the 4×100 relay. Gault was part of a relay team that was anchored by future gold medalist Carl Lewis.
But the United States would boycott the Moscow Olympics in 1980, which meant Gault never got to represent his country at the Olympics. Gault and Lewis did compete at the 1983 World Championships, however, and their relay team set a world record at the event.
And as the Bleacher Report article points out, Gault is still out proving why he belongs on this list to this very day. Gault recently ran the 100-meter dash in 11.3 seconds and the 200 meters in 23.24 seconds at a meet in Los Angeles just last year.
Gault was 55-years-old last year.
His times were both over-55 records, and he still competes in masters athletics, sports for veteran athletes in the events of track and field, road running and cross country running.
Gault hasn’t played for the Vols in over 30 years, but he still holds several Tennessee records. Gault’s 1,854 kick return yards and four kick return touchdowns in a career are both still school records, although current Vol Evan Berry is dangerously close to passing both those marks. Gualt also led the Vols in all-purpose yardage as a sophomore, junior, and senior. He was voted as an All-American in 1982, and Gault’s 4,035 career all-purpose yards are still second-most in school history behind only Stanley Morgan.
Willie Gault may not have been able to actually participate in the Olympics, but he still holds several Vol records, world records, and a Super Bowl ring to his credit. And that’s enough to make him one of the greatest NFL athletes of all-time.