Hank Lauricella came to Tennessee as part of a 1948 recruiting class that was called the best in Tennessee football history and backed up the accolades over a Hall of Fame career so prolific, he earned the nickname “Mr. Everything.”
Lauricella, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, passed away on Tuesday at his home in Louisiana at the age of 83.
A prototypical tailback for Gen. Robert Neyland’s single-wing offense at 5-foot-11-inches, 175 pounds, Lauricella emerged as one of the first true star players in the history of Tennessee football.
Lauricella hailed from Harahan, La., just outside of New Orleans, and drew interest from Neyland thanks to a tip provided by former college football referee in the area. Neyland was a frequent visitor to Louisiana, a place he would make his home in retirement, and liked what he saw from Lauricella.
He picked the Volunteers over home state schools LSU and Tulane, partly because Neyland still ran the single wing, when many programs had abandoned it for the newly popular “T” formation. In doing so, he became the first Tennessee player from the state, beginning a long legacy of Louisiana Vols.
Freshmen were ineligible for varsity competition at the time, but Lauricella stormed onto the scene as a sophomore in 1949 at the tailback position, a spot in the single-wing that resembles the quarterback in a present-day, spread option offense.
The nickname “Mr. Everything” fit Lauricella to a T. He called the plays and was a threat both with his arm and his legs, rushing for 139 yards and a touchdown while completing 29 passes for 430 yards and six touchdowns in his initial season of action. On the defensive side of the football, he started at safety and was also Tennessee’s primary kick and punt returner and handled the punting duties.
In 1950, he was joined in the backfield by another soon-to-be Tennessee legend in Andy Kozar. Lauricella ran for 575 yards, averaging 4.7 per carry and four touchdowns while throwing for five more scores and 364 yards. For his performance, Lauricella earned All-SEC honors as the Volunteers went 10-1 in the regular season and were named National Champions by the Dunkel Index before earning a bid to the Cotton Bowl.
In the 1951 Cotton Bowl against Texas, Lauricella set up Tennessee’s first score with perhaps the most memorable run in school history. From the Vols’ 20-yard line, Lauricella knifed his way through the Longhorns’ defense and reversed field three times to allow for blocking help before finally being brought down at the Texas 5. The 75-yard run led to the Vols’ first touchdown in a 20-14 win. Lauricella finished with 131 yards on the day. Kozar carried 20 times for 92 yards and the winning score. Both were inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame in 2005.
Lauricella saved the best for last in 1951, a year that would see him become Tennessee’s first Heisman Trophy runner-up. Lauricella averaged over seven yards per carry as a senior, finishing with 881 yards as the Volunteers earned the program’s first Associated Press National Championship and UT’s first SEC title since 1946. He earned his second All-SEC nod as a senior and was named All-America for the first time.
His career finished back in his hometown, as the Vols faced Maryland in the 1952 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Lauricella was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981 and enjoyed a long career as a public servant in his home state, spending eight years in the Louisiana House of Representatives and serving as a state senator from 1972 until 1996.
A wake will be held at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home in New Orleans on Tuesday, April 1, from 5-9 p.m. There will be a visitation, with Mass to follow, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, April 2, at St. Rita Church in Harahan, La.