Soon after being named coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, Derek Dooley created the multi-faceted “Vol for Life” program, led by former UT defensive back Andre Lott, that focuses on four areas of personal growth for players: character education, life skills, career development and spiritual growth.
“When we put in that tag-phrase ‘Vol for Life,’ it’s something that’s not a creation, it’s real,” Dooley told The Daily Beacon. “These guys, when they leave here, they consider themselves Vols. It’s the whole ‘Once a Vol, always a Vol.’”
So what does the term “Vol for Life” truly mean?
“I think it’s one: recognizing and appreciating the three-to-four year experience (players) had at Tennessee, and all that Tennessee gave to them,” Dooley said. “Then, when they leave, there’s a continual bond that the player has with the program and that the program has with the player. It’s so important not to ever feel a disconnect between program and former players because they are the ones that made this program the special program that it is and I’ll always remember that.”

James Wilhoit certainly remembers the last time Tennessee beat Florida.
The 2004 contest between the Volunteers and Gators came down to Wilhoit, then UT’s sophomore kicker.
“There are just a few moments to happen in people’s lives where you know it’s an important moment,” Wilhoit said. “For me, those five-to-10 minutes where I was preparing for that kick and I got out there and got ready to kick, there was nothing more important ever in my life than making that kick. I remember stepping out on the field and having such a focus on what I had to do. Even though there was a record crowd of 109,000 people, it felt like there was nobody else in the stadium at all. It’s a feeling that I’ve never experienced again in my life.”
With only six seconds left and UT down 28-27, Wilhoit faced a potential game-winning 50-yard field goal.
“Once I kicked the ball, once it came off my foot, our snapper, our holder and myself, we had worked together enough to where we knew once it got in the air that it was going in,” Wilhoit told The Daily Beacon. “We all, while the ball was in the air, we’re already celebrating.”
But it wasn’t just any game-winning field goal. Following a UT touchdown with 3:27 remaining, Wilhoit had missed the extra point that would’ve tied the game.    
“I was kind of in shock that I had missed it,” Wilhoit said of the extra point. “I had never missed an extra point in my career. At that moment, once I got on the sidelines, reality started to set in that if this game ends this way, then it’s going to be my fault that we lost. I’ve always been a competitor and never really wanted to go out that way.
“I was just determined, whatever I had to do, I was going to win that game and make up for that mistake and I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to.”
But Wilhoit’s UT career wasn’t just that one kick in 2004. He finished second on Tennessee’s career scoring list with 325 points.
“It was interesting because by my sophomore year I had already had my defining moment,” he said. “Right after that season, I had surgery on my foot, I had an extra bone in my foot and I had to recover from that. I finished out my career making 26 of my last 30 field goals.
“I was glad that I wasn’t just remembered for just one kick, that I actually had a career to back it up.”
After his four-year Vol career, Wilhoit tried to make an NFL roster, most notably with the Baltimore Ravens.
“I took about two years to try to make it in the NFL,” Wilhoit said. “I got some good opportunities but it seemed like every door was kind of closing for me.”
After studying under some of the top kicking coaches across the country, Wilhoit, who has a master’s degree in sports psychology, now coaches high school and college kickers across the state.
“I trained over 130 kickers across the state last summer,” he said. “That’s been a very successful business for me. Plus, over the last eight or nine months, I’ve gotten back in shape and stated training for the NFL again. I’ve started really having success there and I’m hoping over the next six-to-eight months of trying to get a legitimate shot at trying to get back in the NFL.”
But making it to the NFL hadn’t been on Wilhoit’s mind until he started coaching and training current and future college kickers.
“As I started coaching all these guys, my kicking got better,” Wilhoit said. “My kicking at this point, I’m much better than I was three or four years ago when I came out of college.”
Now, five years after finishing his UT career, Wilhoit still fondly remembers moments of his time as Vol.
“Those are things that you look back now and you’re even more proud of your career and proud of what we did while I was there,” he said. “Growing up in the state of Tennessee, I was always going to be a Tennessee fan before I played at Tennessee and I was going to be a Tennessee fan after. Certainly, I’m proud of playing at Tennessee and the program we have.”