I came to The University of Tennessee as a transfer student from Raleigh, N.C., in 2002. As an aspiring sports writer, I came because of the football.
Three months before I enrolled in January, I had attended my first UT football game (which was also my first trip to the state of Tennessee). I watched Kelly Washington rack up almost 300 yards receiving against LSU in front almost 108,000 orange people.
Washington's performance that day was the hook. And I bit right into it.
But luckily Washington did more than attract me to Tennessee football.
His selfish NFL-bound play during my first football season as a student (2002) provoked me to broaden my outlook on UT sports.
I've slowly come to realize there is more to life and more to Tennessee than college football.
Take the Lady Volunteers for instance. Many so-called UT sports fans probably have no idea that the UT women's athletic program received the SEC's all-sports title for its 2003-04 accomplishments.
Three Lady Vol teams won conference championships (basketball, soccer and cross country); and ten of the 11 squads advanced to their respective NCAA events.
The symbol of Lady Vol dominance last year was Monica Abbott, who as a freshman pitcher accounted for 45 of the UT softball team's school-record 55 wins. She became the first player to ever garner both the SEC Freshman and Pitcher of the Year Awards.
While Abbott is at the center of her own sport, most UT fans could probably tell you more about a football player whose home-away-from-home is the bench.
Of course, another Lady Vol team I've had no choice but to gain respect for is Pat Summitt's basketball team. Sure, the Lady Vols have lost the past two years in the NCAA Final to Connecticut.
But the football team has ended two straight seasons with lopsided losses in the Peach Bowl against teams from the basketball-happy Atlantic Coast Conference.
Going into her 31st season at the helm of the most storied women's college basketball program, Summitt adds possibly the most talented recruiting in the history of any college sport.
When I was growing up, my father's motto used to be, "I'm going to watch a lot of college basketball on TV, but I refuse to watch enough of a women's game to see a basket."
Forget you, dad. These women at UT can ball.
And if you don't believe me, watch freshman Candace Parker dunk with ease in traffic this season.
Speaking of traffic, members of the men's and women's track and field teams caused a lot of it leaving Knoxville for the Olympic Trials this summer.
Same goes for swimming and diving.
I even had the luxury last year to drive around in a cart and eat frequent snacks while covering a UT golf meet at Knoxville's Holston Hills Country Club.
Thanks, Kelly Washington.
- Matt Giles is the sports editor of The Daily Beacon and a senior in journalism. He can be reached at mgiles@utk.edu.