Some thrive under pressure in big moments. Others crumble under the bright spotlight.
But during the final moments of the 2004 Tennessee-Florida game, it was a kid from the Sunshine State embracing each moment. Sarasota native Chris Hannon proved pivotal on the game-winning drive with two crucial catches that put the Vols in field goal range to win 30-28 in Knoxville.
"We thought we were going to go down and score," Hannon said. "I went into the huddle and told (Erik) Ainge, 'I'm always open.' I didn't think I was open the first play but he threw it and I dropped it. He came back to me the next play when he spun out and I got that big gain. We had one more play and it was all bout getting a few extra yards. I took two steps and turned around. I told him to keep coming to me that whole drive."
And that type of confidence was fostered in Hannon's first two seasons in Knoxville.
"I knew the playbook like Casey (Clausen) knew the playbook," Hannon said. "I used to study the plays with Casey, so I knew the offense better than Erik and I showed him all through camp that he could trust me. Knowing a lot can be so beneficial. It can also be a thorn in your side. I knew what defense Florida was in so that's why I stayed on him."
Being a receiver in the early 2000s meant one thing: Fall in line and learn with the quarterback or get left behind.
"Those young receivers didn't have a choice," Clausen said. "After practice we would go eat and then we would go back up to the film room. The way that I watched film is the way they watched film. If they weren't here, I'd tell coaches, he isn't here and not ready to play. Chris was 6-foot-4 and had the most upside. He learned alignment and how to read coverages. He was a guy that I wished I had one more year with. The quarterbacks were young when I left, but the receivers took on the leadership role. He was a player and a hard worker and I really enjoyed playing with him."
Hannon was long and had speed to burn. He scored a career-high seven touchdowns during the 2003 season with a Tennessee record three touchdowns against Mississippi State. He had a knack for getting into the checkerboards, but that was what he loved so much about that Florida game in 2004. It wasn't about individual accolades and yet more about helping his team.
"I didn't score any touchdowns, but I helped the team so much," Hannon said. "That's my favorite game ever and the excitement of that field goal is still crazy to me. The locker room was so much fun and I still remember it. It's in my memory bank forever. I don't want to cry in front of people, but it gets to you. You just want to go back in time and relive that moment right there."
A quarterback in high school, Hannon was special coming out of Riverview High. Tennessee made the pitch that made the most sense and the rest is history.
"It was coach Fulmer and coach Brooks," Hannon said. "This was coach Brooks area and to have he and coach Fulmer come down was big. Coach Spurrier never came because I thinking his mind was on leaving already. The pitch was they were going to move me to receiver because I played option quarterback in high school. They thought they could make some big plays with me. They kept showing me highlight films of Dante (Stallworth), Kelly (Washington) and Peerless Price. I was thinking they throw every down and I couldn't pass that up."
Looking back at his career, Hannon credits one man for his success. It started and ended with a man that he saw as a father figure.
"Coach Fulmer always wanted me to be that star player," Hannon said. "The whole time I was there, he came at me and pushed me. He just motivated me and conquered my talent. I had the mindset that I wouldn't play till my senior season and he wasn't about that. He lit my fuel and I took off. He was a father figure to us all."
Hannon hasn't been back to Rocky Top following his graduation after the 2005 season. He remains in contact with teammates like Jayson Swain, Robert Meachem, C.J. Fayton, Parys Haralson, Jomo Fagan and others, but the heart doesn't drift to far from his orange and white heritage. He is a big fan of John Kelly and will be cheering hard this Saturday afternoon.
"My wife is trying to get me up there," Hannon said. "I have to get back up there soon to see the guys. It's something I want to get done."
Hannon currently resides back in his hometown of Sarasota where he lives with his wife and five sons.