Richard Pickens, who followed a heralded prep football career at Young High School with an equally heralded collegiate career at the University of Tennessee as the SEC’s leading rusher in 1968, died Sunday in Knoxville. He was 67.
Mr. Pickens had fought a courageous battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease since 2001 and later experienced Frontotemporal Dementia starting in 2007. He was plagued by concussions from his earliest days at Young through his careerat Tennessee.
Jim McDonald, his classmate at Young and at Tennessee and his conservator since 2010, said Mr. Pickens had stipulated that his brain be donated to Boston University for study on the impact of concussions. McDonald estimated Mr. Pickens had 15-20 concussions in his time at Young and Tennessee.
Mr. Pickens was a threeyear starter at fullback between 1966-68 under coach Doug Dickey. He was part of a heralded recruiting class in 1964-65, when Dickey was selling a dream of football success to prospects not only across the state of Tennessee, but beyond.
Playing at 5-foot-10, 209 pounds, and wearing jersey No. 34, Mr. Pickens was a load for opposing defenders. News Sentinel columnist Sam Venable, a Young teammate,remembered his running style well.
“It truly hurt to attempt tackling him, like going head to head with an oncoming 18-wheeler,” he said.
That 1964-65 recruiting class, one of the best in Tennessee history, had three All-America selections, offensive guard Charles Rosenfelder, defensive back Jimmy Weatherford, and wide receiver Richmond Flowers and six all-SEC players, Rosenfelder, Weatherford, Flowers, Mr. Pickens, tight end Ken DeLong, and defensive tackle Frank Yanossy.
Mr. Pickens amassed 736 yards on 133 rushing attempts, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, to leadthe SEC his senior season.
“He was an excellent runner, a fine blocker, and one of the steadiest players on the team,” said Dickey.
When he graduated from Tennessee in 1968, Pickens was the Vols’ third-leading rusher of all time, finishing his career with 1,644 yards. Only Beattie Feathers (1931-33, 1,888 yards) and Andy Kozar (1950-52, 1850 yards) had gained more.
He joined the late Neal McMeans as an alternate captain of the 1968 squad, serving under captain Dick Williams.
After college, Mr. Pickens was invited to try out for the Houston Oilers and was the last player cut before the 1969 season. He returned to UT, earneda Bachelor of Science degree in transportation in 1970, and went to work for Southern Railway. He was with Southern Railway/ Norfolk Southern for 32 years, before finishing as superintendent of terminals in Spartanburg, S.C., retiring in 2002.
“He loved Tennessee football,” said McDonald.”You couldn’t keep him off the field. He was 110 percent all the time.” Mr. Pickens is survived by daughters Whitney Lyn Sweet of Silver Spring, Md., and Sarah Louise Pickens of Washington, D.C.
The family will receive friends Aug. 6 from 5-7 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall at Graystone Presbyterian Church, 136 Woodlawn Pike, Knoxville. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Tennessee Fund at 1551 Lake Loudoun Blvd., Knoxville, TN 37996. Berry Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Jim McDonald, on Richard Pickens
Courtesy of: Tom Mattingly
Published by: Knoxville News Sentinel