When Tennessee fans think of 97, they more than likely think of Peyton Manning. After earning his degree in three years and being projected to be the #1 player taken in the 1997 NFL Draft, Manning made the decision to forego the draft and return to Tennessee for his senior season.
The Vols ended up battling to an SEC championship victory over Auburn and an 11-2 record, losing only to the then #1 Florida Gators and eventual co-national champion Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl. Manning threw for 3,819 yards and 36 TD’s to only 11 INT’s and found himself as the winner of the Davey O’Brien, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm, and Maxwell Awards. Manning also won SEC Player Of The Year and ended up in New York as a Heisman Finalist beside winner Charles Woodson and Marshall WR Randy Moss.
The number 97
Malik Jackson is probably the most well known Vols to sport 97. Jackson played for the Vols in the 2010 and 2011 season after transferring from Southern California. He left Tennessee with 104 total tackles and 7.5 sacks, even grabbing one interception. Jackson was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by the Denver Broncos. He is now a member of the Eagles.
Buck Buxton was another defensive lineman that sported the number 97 for the Vols. Buxton was a member of the 1997 SEC Championship team and sadly, passed away in 2018 at the age of 41.
Now in his senior season, Darel Middleton currently wears number 97 for the Vols. After transferring from East Mississippi C.C., Middleton played in all 13 games of his junior year and finished with 28 tackles, 2.0 TFLs and one sack to go along with a forced fumble and a blocked kick. Middleton looks to be a major factor for Jeremy Pruitt’s defense in his senior year on Rocky Top.