KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Ahead of the Sept. 2 season opener, the University of Tennessee will unveil statues of four history-making Black Tennessee football players to kick off the year-long centennial celebration of Neyland Stadium.
Lester McClain, Jackie Walker, Condredge Holloway, and Tee Martin will be immortalized with larger-than-life bronze statues in honor of their historic firsts as minority athletes at Tennessee and in collegiate athletics.
School officials will hold a dedication ceremony outside of Gate 21 at Neyland Stadium ahead of the Sept. 2 game against Bowling Green. Attendance to the ceremony will be limited but the event will be live-streamed on UTsports.com and the Tennessee Athletics YouTube channel.
Lester McClain (1968-1970)
In 1967, Lester McClain became the first Black player in the history of Tennessee football. A year later, the Antioch native also made history as the first Black player to score a touchdown in the SEC when he caught two scores during UT’s 24-7 win at Georgia Tech.
“It’s certainly an honor to be remembered and placed into history at the University of Tennessee like this,” McClain said. “It’s a wonderful thing. I hope I can influence many others to come forth and give their very best to the university and continue to make a difference in the world.
“I do regret that my parents are no longer around to be part of the dedication. Dr. Bill Garrett is someone else who would have been very proud. He played a major role in me coming to the university and earning a scholarship. He felt like I could do well, so he stood up and fought for me. I can’t take any credit without remembering him and all he did for me.”
Jackie Walker (1969-1971)
Junior linebacker Jackie Walker, a Knoxville native, made history in 1970 when he became the SEC’s first Black football All-American. He recorded a career-high of 132 tackles and five interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Walker also notched two sacks, nine TFLs, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.
Walker passed away in 2002. He will be represented by members of his family, including his brother, Marshall, at the Sept. 2 dedication.
“I want to first say that I’m honored to be able to represent the Walker family when Jackie’s statue gets unveiled,” Marshall Walker said. “I believe Jackie would feel it’s a tremendous honor to have a statue on the University of Tennessee campus. None of us ever expected this. I’m ecstatic, proud, and happy that (Danny White, Marcus Hilliard) and the rest of the UT staff and coaches saw this as important and found a way to honor these historic University of Tennessee athletes.”
Condredge Holloway (1972-1974)
In 1972, Holloway became the first Black quarterback at Tennessee and in the SEC. He was also the first Black baseball player in school history. The baseball program retired his No. 1 jersey in 2015 and he is the only Tennessee athlete to be named to the school’s all-century squads in both baseball and football. He also served as Tennessee’s assistant athletics director for student-athlete relations and letterman for more than 20 years.
“When I first heard about this, I was pretty shocked,” Holloway said. “It’s a great honor. I’m nothing but grateful. I enjoyed all the things I did there at the University of Tennessee, but a lot of the credit for this honor goes to my teammates.
“Back when I was playing, I never thought about opening doors for players in the future. I just thought about trying to play my best and get along well with my teammates. It’s a team game. There are 11 guys out there (on the football field), and all of us worked together to play well and win.”
Tee Martin (1996-99)
Quarterback Tee Martin led the Volunteers to a perfect, undefeated season in 1998, becoming the first Black quarterback to lead an SEC team to a National Championship when Tennessee defeated Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl. He was 22-3 as the starting QB in two seasons at Tennessee, including 13-0 at Neyland Stadium.
“I want to say thank you to the Tennessee athletic department—past and present—for this outstanding honor, “Martin said. “I want this statue to represent those who came before me and opened doors for me at the University of Tennessee—Lester McClain and Condredge Holloway, to name a few. I want to thank my teammates and coaches for their hard work and love during some of the most memorable years in UT football history. I will always love you all. Go Vols!”