KODAK — Nothing was going to stop Chris Treece from playing the sport he was told to be too small to play.
Not even when he wasn’t allowed to play due to his family’s fear of him being seriously hurt did Treece consider giving it up.
“I weighed nothing,” Treece recalled.
So how could Treece improve his skills if he wasn’t playing organized football? He would have to do so secretly.
And he did.
When off from school, Treece often snuck out of the house and practiced with his friends who did play football, usually returning home with the typical cuts and bruises from a full-contact sport.
It wasn’t long before daring to pursue his dream paid off, with the helping hand of coach Walter Evans.
“(Evans) told my parents ‘He needs to be playing football.’ That’s how I got to start playing,” Treece said.
After getting the green light from his family to start playing, Treece didn’t stop.
Starting in the defensive backfield at Morristown West during high school, Treece emerged as a strong presence for the Trojans with 6 interceptions during his junior year in 1984. That tied a school record which stood until James “Little Man” Stewart intercepted 9 passes in 1988.
Three of Treece’s interceptions that season came against David Crockett, tying him for West’s all-time record for picks in one game which still stands today. He went on to earn All-Inter Mountain Conference honors that season.
But after three seasons of playing for coach Dale Chrisman and the Trojans, Treece’s life changed when his dad accepted an engineering job at the Nissan Smyrna assembly plant in Rutherford County.
As a result, Treece and his family moved to Murfreesboro where he would attend Oakland High School for his senior year and play football for coach David Alsup and the defending Class AAA state champion Patriots.
Almost immediately, Treece drew the attention of multiple Division I universities including Southeastern Conference schools like Ole Miss and Mississippi State along with Texas A&M, a member of the Southwest Conference at the time.
Treece, who garnered All-State and All-American honors his senior year in 1985, ultimately accepted a scholarship offer to play football at Tennessee.
“It was truly one of the best decisions my family ever made because it opened my exposure to a bigger market, but I’ll forever be grateful for what I learned and the friendships I made in Morristown,” Treece said. “I had a chip on my shoulder when I went down there (to Oakland). I was still small, but I ended up starting day one. It meant everything because for all those people who said I couldn’t do it, here it is.”
From his strong safety position, the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Treece recorded 12 tackles and recovered a fumble while breaking up 2 passes in 17 games for the Volunteers.
While injuries eventually took their toll, Treece did help the Vols to an SEC championship his senior year in 1989.
Treece was one of 22 enrollees for his class at UT, a class which featured 15 who played professionally and three first-round draft picks. One of them was Treece’s roommate Alvin Harper, who helped the Dallas Cowboys win a pair of Super Bowl championships in 1992 and 1993.
And while social media bios have somewhat watered down the term Vol For Life, it still has special meaning for Treece and his fellow Vols.
“It means pride. Everybody wants to be a VFL but for us, it’s got a deeper meaning because we actually got recruited, got the scholarship and were blessed to play at Tennessee,” Treece said. “We got to run through the T which nobody else gets to do and we got to play in front of 100,000 fans, and VFL means more to us in that aspect.”
Treece now coaches defensive backs at Webb School of Knoxville and is the CEO of Treece Advantage Football Training. In addition, he often teams with Jabari Davis and other former Vols to instruct camps such as the Legends of Tennessee Football Camp at Northview Academy, which took place June 20-22.
Where Treece’s football journey will end remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt where it started. And to this day, Treece and Evans still maintain regular contact.
“(Evans) is somebody that I’ve leaned on over the years and just talked about life,” Treece said. “He taught me so much about the game of football. He’s always been complimentary of my accolades but I tell him that at the end of the day, it’s not about me playing football, it’s about the man I became that I’m proud of as well. He had a lot to do with that.”