The American Football Coaches Association recently honored the 70 percent

graduation rate of the Tennessee Vols' football team.

But to at least one former Tennessee player and UT graduate, Eric Lane,

there's more to the recognition than meets the eye.

"The athletics department has done an incredible job in the area of

academics," Lane said. "The Student Life program gets better and better,

year after year."

While a running back for Tennessee, Lane earned his bachelor's degree and,

as a fifth-year senior, started work on a master's degree in public

administration. Lane, who now plays for the New York Giants, said he spent

the off-season this year preparing to take the Law School Admissions

Test.

"I still have a couple of courses to go on my master's, but my real

aspiration is to go to law school and become an attorney," he said. "I took

the law school test in June."

The Vols have enjoyed a 70 percent graduation rate four out of the past 10

years. This June the Vols received one of 24 "honorable mention" awards

from the coaches association.

Northwestern University, with a 100 percent graduation rate, took the top

honor. In the Southeastern Conference, other "honorable mention" awards

went to Florida, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.

"We are excited to receive the coaches association award," said Carmen

Tegano, UT assistant athletics director in charge of Student Life. "The

graduation numbers are a reflection of motivated student-athletes,

dedicated support staff and a faculty that understands the challenges

student-athletes face"

One of Lane's teammates, Reggie Cobb, turned pro before getting his degree

in urban affairs, but he is still pursuing his diploma.

Cobb's academic progress is closely followed by Tyler Johnson, who directs

a two-year-old program for the athletics department called "RAC" for

Renewing Academic Commitment.

Cobb, an NFL running back who played with several teams including Tampa,

Green Bay, Jacksonville and the New York Jets, is an RAC participant.

Tegano and UT athletics director Doug Dickey started RAC to encourage

former Vols to finish their degrees.

"The RAC program and our graduation rates in football reflect well on our

commitment to classroom achievement," Dickey said.

Johnson estimates that over the past couple of years he has had contact

with 80 or 90 former Vols about returning to school.

"Right now I would say we have 30 to 40 former athletes actually working on

their degrees," he said.