Knoxville, Tenn--(UT Sports) Hank Lauricella came to Tennessee as part of a 1948 recruiting class that was called the best in Tennessee football history and backed up the accolades over a Hall of Fame career so prolific, he earned the nickname "Mr. Everything."
Lauricella, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, passed away on Tuesday in his home state of Louisiana at the age of 83.
"Our thoughts and prayers are at with the family of Hank Lauricella, a true VFL who accomplished everything you could accomplish at the University of Tennessee," Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones said. "He is what Tennessee and Tennessee Football stands for, so I want everyone to know that we're thinking of his family."
"I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be around Hank on a number of occasions over the past two years," Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart said. "He was a gentleman's gentleman with the competitive edge of a Heisman Trophy contender. Hank was all Vol and will be missed."
A prototypical tailback for Gen. Robert Neyland's single-wing offense at 5'11, 175 pounds, Lauricella emerged as one of the first true star players in the history of Tennessee football.
Lauricella hailed from Harahan, La., just outside of New Orleans, and drew interest from Neyland thanks to a tip provided by former college football referee in the area. Neyland was a frequent visitor to Louisiana, a place he would make his home in retirement, and liked what he saw from Lauricella.
He picked the Volunteers over home state schools LSU and Tulane, partly because Neyland still ran the single wing, when many programs had abandoned it for the newly popular "T" formation. In doing so, he became the first Tennessee player from the state, beginning a long legacy of Louisiana Vols.
"Hank was a great football player and an even better person," former Tennessee offensive lineman and Lauricella teammate Jim Haslam said. "Hank was a Heisman Trophy finalist, later followed by Peyton Manning, Johnny Majors and Heath Shuler, and his 75-yard run in the 1951 Cotton Bowl is one of the greatest plays in Tennessee football history. He was a true servant leader and served in the Louisiana legislature in both the House and Senate for almost 30 years.
"Betty and Hank and Natalie and I have been great friends for 65 years. Hank was a true credit to the University of Tennessee, both as a superb athlete and an outstanding student."
Freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition at the time, but Lauricella stormed onto the scene as a sophomore in 1949 at the tailback position, a spot in the single-wing that resembles the quarterback in a present-day, spread option offense.
"Obviously, it's a sad day for the entire Tennessee family," former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Hank Lauricella was a good friend to me, and he and I shared a special bond with both playing quarterback at the University of Tennessee and coming from the state of Louisiana. I was always proud to share that bond with Hank.
"He was a great player and person, and he was always nice to me and my family. I'm glad I had the opportunity to have a great visit with Hank at his son's house last year at a crawfish boil, and I always enjoyed my visits with him. My condolences go out to his family."
Pat Shires, who played with Lauricella in the 1950s remembered him fondly.
"Hank was a special man, a very giving individual," said Shires. "He was a great football player, a great athlete, he could do it all. He's been really good to the University of Tennessee and we will miss him."
The nickname "Mr. Everything" fit Lauricella to a T. He called the plays and was a threat both with his arm and his legs, rushing for 139 yards and a touchdown while completing 29 passes for 430 yards and six touchdowns in his initial season of action. On the defensive side of the football, he started at safety and was also Tennessee's primary kick and punt returner and handled the punting duties.
In 1950, he was joined in the backfield by another soon-to-be Tennessee legend in Andy Kozar. Lauricella ran for 575 yards, averaging 4.7 per carry and four touchdowns while throwing for five more scores and 364 yards. For his performance, Lauricella earned All-SEC honors as the Volunteers went 10-1 in the regular season and were named National Champions by the Dunkel Index before earning a bid to the Cotton Bowl.
In the 1951 Cotton Bowl against Texas, Lauricella set up Tennessee's first score with perhaps the most memorable run in school history. From the Vols' 20-yard line, Lauricella knifed his way through the Longhorns' defense and reversed field three times to allow for blocking help before finally being brought down at the Texas 5. The 75-yard run led to the Vols' first touchdown in a 20-14 win. Lauricella finished with 131 yards on the day. Kozar carried 20 times for 92 yards and the winning score. Both were inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame in 2005.
Lauricella saved the best for last in 1951, a year that would see him become Tennessee's first Heisman Trophy runner-up. Lauricella averaged over seven yards per carry as a senior, finishing with 881 yards as the Volunteers earned the program's first Associated Press National Championship and UT's first SEC title since 1946. He earned his second All-SEC nod as a senior and was named All-America for the first time.
His career finished back in his hometown, as the Vols faced Maryland in the 1952 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Lauricella was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981 and enjoyed a long career as a public servant in his home state, spending eight years in the Louisiana House of Representatives and serving as a state senator from 1972 until 1996.
"I'm very saddened to hear of Hank Lauricella's death. He was a great Tennessee football player and a great Volunteer in every way," former Tennessee player and head coach Johnny Majors said. "I met him as a freshman at Tennessee and we have been friends ever since, even though we were not teammates.
"I saw Lauricella play in the first two games I ever saw Tennessee play, against Alabama in 1950 in Knoxville when I was a sophomore in high school and in Birmingham in 1951 when Tennessee beat Alabama there. He was one of the great players ever at Tennessee. But as much as he was a great player, he was a gentleman of the highest order and a wonderful friend and loyal person to those he loved and cared for."
"Hank was one of the greatest of all Volunteers and was a great friend and mentor to a lot of people," former Tennessee player and head football coach Phillip Fulmer said. "He gave back to the community at every opportunity, and he will be sorely missed by the Volunteer family."
A wake will be held at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home in New Orleans on Tuesday, April 1 from 5-9 PM. There will be a visitation, with Mass to follow, from 10 AM - 1 PM on Wednesday, April 2 at St. Rita Church in Harahan, La.