Tears flow as Vols senior Bain finally gets his scholarship

Friday, September 14, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 37
By Rhiannon Potkey

Defensive lineman Paul Bain, a redshirt senior and a transfer from Division II Tusculum College, is leaving Champs Sports after being awarded a scholarship.

-- Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

There might soon be an opening for sales associate at Champs Sports in Knoxville. Paul Bain is likely submitting his two-week notice very soon.

The Tennessee redshirt senior walk-on was awarded a scholarship last week, meaning the defensive lineman won’t need to keep selling athletic footwear and apparel to help pay for his tuition.

“Excited and very relieved,” Bain says of receiving the news. “I felt like a ton of weight just got lifted off my shoulders. It was really emotional for me and my family.”

Unlike many other programs around the country, new UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt didn’t devise a way of awarding Bain the scholarship with a video clip that could go viral on social media.

Bain heard “rumors” the scholarship may be coming and met with Pruitt in his office last week to ask if there was any progress. Pruitt told Bain he had just gotten off the phone about it, and the scholarship was available for him.

Bain, who stepped away from the locker room area in the football facility because he “didn’t want my teammates to see me cry or anything,” immediately called his mom.

“I told her, ‘Mom, I finally got put on scholarship’ and then she just started breaking down crying,” Bain says. “I started tearing up a little bit. I’m not going to say I cried, but it was very emotional for all of us.”

Bain began his college football career at Division II Tusculum College, redshirting his freshman season. But the native of Powder Springs, Georgia, dreamed of playing for a Power 5 program and transferred to UT.

He arrived with no guarantee he would make the team and had to go through walk-on tryouts before finding out his fate.

“It was the most nerve-wracking 24 hours of my life,” Bain says. “After I left Tusculum, I wasn’t sure if I had just played my last down of football. So I was just waiting by the phone constantly clicking it seeing if the phone call was coming or anything, and it finally did and I got the good news.”

Bain was a member of the practice squad in his first season with the Vols. He appeared in two games as a redshirt sophomore and three games last season, playing a role in one of UT’s lone highlights by blocking a game-winning field goal attempt by Georgia Tech in the season-opening victory.

Bain has already played in both games this season, recording a fumble recovery in the opener against West Virginia. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound veteran should see more time on Saturday when the Vols (1-1) host a UTEP team riding a 14-game losing streak.

“I think Paul is a guy that works really hard. We have a lot of walk-ons in our program that work really hard, and they’re all over the country, and I think it builds character,” Pruitt says. “I was a walk-on, so he’s not the first one that’s ever done it. When it comes to playing, he’s got to be consistent and really learn what to do. He has some ability, and I think he’s a very good representative to the University of Tennessee.”

”I am just a kid who worked at Champs and on a farm and wasn’t recruited very much, and now I am in this position where I am playing in front of 102,000 people,” Bain says.

-- Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics

Bain’s father, McKinley, is a geriatric medicine specialist. His mother, a former nurse, is the office manager at the practice. Being on scholarship was something Bain has been working for his entire career, partly to help alleviate any financial stress his parents feel.

“I think it’s been my dream since I really went to college with all the work my parents were putting in just to put me through school and trying to get me through school,” Bain says. “I think it was a big motivation to take that load off of not just my parents, but also my own back. To finally tell them I got this right now, it meant a lot to me.”

Bain has been supplementing his income the last few years by working at Champs Sports. He worked regularly during the offseason and usually texted his manager after practices to see if any hours were available during the season.

The last time Bain worked a shift at Champs was during the tax-free holiday before the Vols opened fall camp.

Asked if Champs was now hiring to find his replacement given the scholarship news, Bain responds with a hearty laugh, “Actually I’m not sure, but I know they will be.”

“I am just so thankful for them and for a good work relationship with my manager at Champs,” Bain says. “They have been nothing but supportive of me and my dreams.”

From the moment he stepped on campus, Bain has earned the respect of his teammates through his dedication. His entry into games always elicits the loudest cheers from the sideline, and teammates had the same reaction when told Bain had received a scholarship.

“It was an awesome moment,” UT sophomore offensive lineman Trey Smith says. “Paul Bain is a hard-working individual. I don’t know if many people realize he actually worked a job and played football at the same time, so that work ethic from an individual who brings it every day – he is more than deserving of that.”

During his redshirt season at Tusculum, Bain never lost sight of his goal to play Division I. He constantly watched tape of NFL and major college players to see how he compared.

“What I learned at Tusculum is there is a lot of hard work that you have to put in before anybody notices,” Bain says. “You have to work the extra mile if you really have a dream, and you really believe in it. There are countless hours I was in the Tusculum gym just pumping iron past the workout dates. After practice, I would go down there to get stronger and get faster.”

Having been inspired by his parents work in the medical field, Bain wants to become a dentist and open his own practice in a rural area where dental care isn’t as easily accessible or available.

“I feel like a person’s smile is a powerful tool that everybody should have the ability to use because it can start conversations and open doors for people,” Bain says. “People tend to overlook that component, so I want to go to rural areas and kind of give that to people who don’t feel they have the ability to use that tool.”

Bain’s own ever-present smile is familiar around the UT campus. He feels fortunate to have the opportunity to represent UT, no matter how much he contributes on game days. He’s proud to have finally earned a scholarship this season and wants to motivate others traveling the same path.

“I am just a kid who worked at Champs and on a farm and wasn’t recruited very much, and now I am in this position where I am playing in front of 102,000 people,” Bain says. “That is a dream that I took to the very end, and I just hope someone sees my story and continues to work and sees that anything is possible as long as they put the work in for it.”