There weren’t many highlights during Tennessee’s 2017 football season. But one moment that many Vol fans liked and actually found a little relief from the negativity in was Rashaan Gaulden’s now infamous gesture towards Alabama fans in Tuscaloosa.
Tennessee ended up getting blown out by Alabama 45-7 in Tuscaloosa this season. The Vols’ offense was putrid, only totaling 108 yards and failing to score a single point. Tennessee’s defense scored the Vols’ only touchdown, and it was a 97-yard interception returned for a score by linebacker Daniel Bituli in the third quarter.
And at the end of that play, Gaulden, who was running with Bituli, turned to the Alabama crowd and raised two middle fingers to them. The Vols were down 28-7 at the time, and Gaulden was lambasted during the game and after by some well-known media members.
Gaulden has publicly apologized for his action since then, but he knew he would be asked about it at the NFL Combine. And he was, and he had an answer for the NFL scouts, managers, and executives who asked him.
“A lot of teams have asked me about that,” Gaulden said at the combine according to Jason Wolf of The Tennessean, “and I just tell them I’ve matured since then. I tell them that there’s no place in the game for that kind of act. I took it upon myself in the locker room after the game to ask for a public apology to the media, so that’s just something that I go back home and I wish I didn’t do because you have kids mimicking that same gesture and people thinking that it’s cool.
“But to me personally, that’s not the way I want to be remembered at the University of Tennessee.”
And according to Gaulden, the scouts, executives, and managers could tell he was genuine about it. And that was that.
“They just want to know if I’ve matured and grown since then,” Gaulden said, “and being the genuine guy I am, they see that. I regret that, but I definitely learned from it.”
The play somewhat overshadowed what was a great redshirt junior season for Gaulden at Tennessee. He primarily played nickel corner for the Vols in 2017, and he totaled 65 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, six passes defended, an interception, forced three fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. He was one of the few bright spots on what turned out to be a below average Tennessee defense.
Gaulden could be the first Vol selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. And if anyone in the NFL has any concerns about his behavior, Gaulden is doing his best to assure them that those fears are unfounded.