When Chelsea Knotts called Elizabeth Tiller during the summer of 2008 to ask her about being roommates at Tennessee that fall, it made sense.

The two incoming freshmen met during the interview weekend earlier that year for the inaugural class of the Haslam Scholars Program, which selects only 15 high school seniors annually.

Knotts and Tiller had already been chosen to be a part of the first class of the program and both were going to be on the Lady Volunteers’ track and field team. Knotts came to UT from Ripley, W.V., Tiller from Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Now, four years later, they are best friends, and Knotts, who enjoys hiking and photography, even admitted that people often confuse one for the other.

“It’s been more than just a teammate and a Haslam Scholar,” Tiller said. “Chelsea’s also been my roommate for four years and we do absolutely every extracurricular activity together. It was really nice for her and I to form this instant bond and go to practices together and also have these Haslam classes.”

The scholars program includes a 28-credit hour curriculum, various seminars and community service projects and an all-expense paid study abroad program.

“Elizabeth Tiller and Chelsea Knotts epitomize the scholar-athlete,” Steven Dandaneau, director of the Haslam Scholars Program, said. “They compete athletically at the highest level, but scholarship always comes first. Track requires dedication and true grit, and they have these qualities in abundance. But, as Haslam Scholars, they’re also highly involved in leadership and service, study abroad and intensive research, each and all requiring its own sort of focus and hard work. Few students I have ever known in over 20 years of university teaching match, and none exceed, Elizabeth’s and Chelsea’s inspiring record of academic and athletic achievement.”

The “veritable dynamic duo,” as Dandaneau called them, spends a lot of time with Redeeming Hope Ministries, a grassroots organization that includes members of the Redeemer Church of Knoxville and UT students whose goal is to help the underprivileged and homeless of urban Knoxville, especially in the Fort Sanders neighborhood.

“Last weekend we were downtown as part of First Friday helping to promote this wine-tasting event we’re helping put on for Redeeming Hope Ministries on May 4,” Tiller said.

On the track, Knotts’ specialty is the 800m. Tiller competes in the 3000m, 5000m, 1500m (outdoors) and mile (indoors). Not surprisingly, both are three-time members of SEC Academic Honor Roll. Knotts is UT’s female nominee for the SEC Brad Davis Community Service Post-Graduate Scholarship and the sole endorsed candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship. Tiller was the 2008 Peyton Manning Scholarship recipient and a member of the 2011 SEC Track and Field Community Service team.

“It’s very unique and we’re very fortunate to have such scholar-athletes (as) a part of our program,” J.J. Clark, UT director of track and field, said. “Chelsea and Elizabeth add to the substance of our team academically and they both have great, great character.”

At the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet on April 9, Knotts was one of seven recipients of the Torchbearer, the highest honor UT awards students. She became just the fourth Lady Vol and 24th athlete to receive the award.

“It’s a real honor to be selected as a Torchbearer,” Knotts said. “I know there’s so many students here that do so much for the community and the university so it’s just a real honor to be chosen by a faculty member and by the committee.”

Naturally, she had help from Tiller.

“I knew that she really wanted the award and she actually asked me to write one of her two recommendation letters,” Tiller said. “That was really interesting for me, trying to encapsulate her in this one little letter. But I was so excited for her when she got it. I know that means a lot for athletics to have only the fourth Lady Vol to even get a Torchbearer award, and it’s huge for the track team. Hopefully it’ll draw a lot of recognition and maybe even better student-athletes in the future.”

Knotts and Tiller will both graduate from UT in May, Knotts in cellular and molecular biology and Tiller in Spanish and public administration. Tiller will stay in Knoxville and start UT’s 17-month MBA program, ultimately wanting to go into non-profit work. Knotts plans to return home and attend medical school at West Virginia this fall, and then begin her residency.

“I think I’ll remember my time at UT mostly with the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had with them,” Knotts said. “I think the people have been the most defining part of UT and Tennessee in general. It’s just a great place to be.”